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Sanitizing products on display at the Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Commissary. The Defense Commissary Agency is ramping up supplies of hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes to its stores, especially to stores overseas.

Sanitizing products on display at the Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Commissary. The Defense Commissary Agency is ramping up supplies of hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes to its stores, especially to stores overseas. (Defense Commissary Agency)

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AUSTIN, Texas – Military bases in Washington and Texas, states greatly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, are using virtual town halls to answer questions and inform service members and their families about the illness and what to do.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, dozens of questions poured in during an hourlong town hall Friday about everything from gate procedures to quarantine protocols to whether public spaces are being cleaned more frequently to prevent spread of the virus.

Just three days after the town hall, where leadership discussed hypothetical scenarios of a positive coronavirus test on base, a Lewis-McChord service member and his spouse tested positive for the respiratory illness. The couple are self-quarantined at their off-base home, according to base officials. Another 12 people were identified as at-risk, based on contact with the couple and have also been placed in quarantine.

Washington state has one of the largest outbreaks of coronavirus in the United States, with 162 confirmed cases and 22 deaths, according to the Washington State Department of Health’s website. The number of cases of the virus in the United States now stands at 761 with 27 deaths, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Knowledge is the best way to fight the spread of coronavirus, Lt. Col. Paul Faestel, a doctor and the deputy director of Department of Preventive Medicine at Madigan Army Medical Center, the base hospital, said during the town hall.

“It’s going to take all of us being responsible and washing our hands. We ourselves, through knowing who our enemy is, is the best way forward. We are mission focused here,” he said.

Among the measures recommended during the town hall, military personnel and their families we told to use the Tricare nurse hotline for questions regarding coronavirus-related symptoms instead of going to the emergency room. Other advice included tips also issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as diligent hand washing, avoiding touching one’s face and keeping appropriate social distance from others who appear sick.

Base leadership is also working with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and the Defense Commissary Agency to make certain that items including hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies are stocked on base.

At Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas, where the Department of Health and Human Services is using its facilities to quarantine people returning from overseas, officials scheduled a virtual town hall for 6 p.m. Tuesday livestreamed on the base Facebook page.

So far, no one from the base community has tested positive, but 11 people in quarantine are being treated at a nearby civilian hospital.

More than 200 people have been quarantined at the base hotel. All have completed their required 14-day quarantine and left, making it available to receive new arrivals from the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in Oakland, Calif., on Monday. The ship had more than 20 passengers test positive for the virus before it was emptied.

The final list of Defense Department locations and the numbers of passengers at each base are still being worked out, according to a news release from Joint Base San Antonio.

Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, commander of the base’s 59th Medical Wing, and Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman, base commander, along with other Joint Base San Antonio leadership will answer questions during the town hall about health protection efforts. Concerned community members can submit questions in the comments during the live broadcast or by emailing randolphpublicaffaires@us.af.mil with the subject “Town Hall Question.”

Thayer.rose@stripes.com Twitter: @Rose_Lori

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.
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