Aviano Air Base starts to open facilities after coronavirus restrictions eased
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 19, 2020
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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — The 31st Fighter Wing has begun to reopen or expand services shut down by coronavirus restrictions, a day after new Italian national and regional decrees went into effect.
Almost all base facilities except for schools and child care centers could be open within about a week, officials announced at a town hall meeting Monday on Facebook.
This means airmen and their families will soon be able to use restaurants, the fitness center, the bowling alley and library — all shut down since Italy began imposing restrictions in late February.
Off base, families are now able to travel anywhere in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia region without paperwork. Gatherings up to 10 people are now allowed. Masks and social distancing are still required.
“While we’ve got some more freedoms, COVID-19 is still here,” Lt. Col. Matthew Lund, the wing staff judge advocate, said at the town hall meeting.
An Italian decree easing travel restrictions and reopening most businesses and services went into effect Monday. More restrictions are expected to be lifted June 3 depending on regional conditions.
Aviano will adhere to Italian rules, or follow guidance issued by the Defense Department or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Whichever is stricter is the one we’ll be following,” base spokeswoman Maj. Sarah Babcock said Tuesday. Many base personnel will continue to work from home, she added.
The decision at rural Aviano to start reopening facilities stands in contrast to U.S. Army Garrison Italy, located about 90 miles southwest in the city of Vicenza.
Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, the U.S. Army Africa commander and senior officer at the garrison, said Friday that travel restrictions and curfews for off-duty soldiers will largely remain until the command sees indicators that lessening restrictions is warranted. Many base services also remain closed, though they can apply to reopen through command channels.
The Veneto region, which includes Vicenza, registered 18,950 positive coronavirus cases and 1,803 deaths through Monday, according to the Italian Health Ministry.
Friuli has had 3,198 cases and 320 deaths. It also reported 81 people currently hospitalized with the virus and only three in intensive care, while Veneto reported 263 hospitalized and 22 in ICUs.
Further to the south, Naval Support Activity Naples is planning to reopen facilities “using a slow and managed approach that takes into account any changes in host-nation and regional government policies,” spokeswoman Lt. Jamie Moroney said. “We might not change as fast as our Italian partners are, but we will get to the same place working as a team.”
Campania, the region where Naples is located, had 4,695 cases through Monday, with 399 deaths.
Officials at Aviano cautioned that it would still take days to make changes at some facilities, such as the barbershop, before they reopen.
“With these increased freedoms come increased responsibilities by each of us,” said Col. Richard Woodruff, commander of the 31st Medical Group. “Please continue to practice good physical distancing. Please continue to practice good hand hygiene. And please continue to wear your mask.
“It’s critical that we protect ourselves from each other and that we protect others from ourselves,” he said.