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Eglin AFB commander makes national defense case for control of COVID-19

By JIM THOMPSON | Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach | Published: July 21, 2020

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EGLIN AFB , Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Just days after making a broad case to Eglin Air Force Base personnel and the wider community about the need to get a handle on the rising number of local COVID-19 cases, Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, 96th Test Wing commander and also the base commander, talked in some additional depth Monday about the conversations he's had with local elected officials and business leaders in connection with the pandemic.

In those conversations, Cain said in a telephone interview, he has stressed what the base has done — wearing masks, practicing social distancing, watching for signs of illness and avoiding the assembling of large crowds — to keep its own COVID-19 numbers down.

Cain said a number of his conversations have come with members of the community's Military Affairs Committees, organizations of the local Chambers of Commerce that serve as a link between the community and its military installations.

Okaloosa County Commission Chairman Trey Goodwin and Okaloosa County Administrator John Hofstad said Monday that they had not yet had any direct conversations with Cain about the community's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seth Luttrelll, director of operations for the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, said Monday that the community had had outreach from other Air Force officials, including Maj. Gen. Christopher Azzano, a former Eglin commander now serving as commander of the Air Force Test Center at California's Edwards Air Force Base, about how to prepare airmen for service in the time of COVID-19.

As of Monday, according to the latest state data available, just 16 positive COVID-19 cases have been recorded on Eglin AFB itself. That number is, however, up by four cases since Friday, when a total of just 12 positive COVID-19 cases had been recorded. And the base has seen a steadily upward trend since April, when just a single COVID-19 case was listed as originating on the base..

"We have been preventing COVID on the base for four months," Cain asserted Monday.

Meanwhile, Okaloosa County, which hosts the main portion of the sprawling installation, had logged 1,973 positive COVID-19 cases as of Monday, according to state data. That's an increase of 275 cases from Friday, when the total number of positive cases in the county stood at 1,698.

Further detailing his conversations with local officials and business leaders, Cain said he has stressed that COVID-19 "is a risk to all of us," but with regard to Eglin AFB, that risk has implications for national defense.

As such, Cain said, he has reminded those local leaders that "national defense is a priority for all of us."

As was the case with his Facebook video address to Eglin personnel and the wider community last week, Cain would not go into specific detail with regard to how COVID-19 is affecting the base's mission, which includes air-launched weapons evaluation and development.

Cain did, however, say that military travel restrictions imposed as a result of the high number of local positive COVID-19 cases has adversely affected Eglin missions, because of the fact that a number of those missions involve units associated with Eglin-based units that are located elsewhere in the country.

And on the base itself, Cain said, the logistics and personnel services that are part of the 96th Test Wing's responsibilities as the host unit for the installation are becoming increasingly more focused on COVID-19-related issues.

The base hospital, Cain said, is "deferring common kinds of care" as a result of COVID-19. Cain did not say if, or how many, COVID-19 cases were being treated at the base hospital, referring to the service-wide data that is all that is being released currently by the Air Force. But one positive result of the medical issues created by COVID-19 at the base is that medical personnel are "making a lot of advances in virtual care (assessing patients via digital links instead of at the facility itself," Cain noted.

Cain said he has offered no specific suggestions to community leadership in terms of how it should respond to the ongoing rise in COVID-19 cases, other than pointing out the base's tough posture against spread of the coronavirus.

And, Cain said, regardless of what happens with efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, Eglin AFB is "preparing, and prepared, to operate in this environment" until a vaccine is developed or the coronavirus is otherwise brought under control.

©2020 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)
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