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Commander acknowledges COVID-19 uptick on Wright-Patterson

By THOMAS GNAU | Springfield News-Sun | Published: October 22, 2020

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DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is seeing higher numbers of COVID-19 cases, an increase that reflects similar growth across Ohio and the Dayton area as a whole, the base commander said Wednesday.

But the base remains on track to gradually allow more employees to physically return to the installation in a measured, intelligent way, Col. Patrick Miller, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Wright-Patterson, said Wednesday at a virtual town hall on Facebook.

"I will tell you up front we're still in health protection condition 'Bravo,' " Miller said. "I don't intend on changing that. We remain in phase two of a return to full capacity. I don't intend on changing that."

That was a reference to the base's official status that allows up to half of Wright-Patterson's typical workforce to return to work, an increase that could eventually boost the daily presence on the base to 15,000 or so workers.

Ohio set another record for daily COVID-19 cases, with 2,366 added Wednesday. The last record was set Saturday with 2,234.

It's the fifth time in the past week that Ohio has reported more than 2,000 cases a day and the fourth time the state broke the daily case record in less than two weeks.

"We're prepared for this. We still have lots of capacity in our medical center," Miller added, saying the base is seeing an "origination" of cases from outside the base, not on the base.

Miller urged viewers to continue to wear facial coverings, maintain safe physical distances and keep their hands clean and sanitized.

"If we start to see a lot of hot spots across the installation ... that would bring us back" to an earlier health protection condition, the colonel cautioned. "But we're not seeing that."

Miller instituted condition Bravo last month. He emphasized then — as he emphasized on Wednesday — that in no way is returning to 15,000 workers on base a kind of goal or target.

"That's not a target, folks," Miller said. "It is still not a target. We don't intend to get to 50%. That's not a goal to get to 50%. That's an ability, based on the mission sets."

"There has been a significant uptick of COVID cases, not only at Wright-Patterson but in all of our surrounding counties," said Dr. Michael Crowder, public health emergency officer at Wright-Patterson.

Ohio's largest single-site employer, the base has been largely closed down for the past seven months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with only 10% of the base's typical 30,000 workers permitted to be physically on base in the pandemic's earliest weeks.

By May, commanders and directors were allowed to bring up to 20% of their assigned workforce back to Wright-Patterson offices. Most workers continued — and continue — to work from home or elsewhere.

Miller assumed command of the 88th Air Base Wing in June.

"Condition Bravo," with its concomitant greater number of permitted workers, was instituted in mid-September.

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