APRIL 15, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. One-in-five cases in the U.S. requiring hospitalization are people between the ages of 20 and 44. One-third of Department of Defense cases are in intensive care units. All Airmen are vulnerable, and overcoming this threat requires our entire Air Force working together.
There are reports in the news the country may soon implement a “rolling re-entry” to open businesses while decreasing social distancing guidelines. But, if Airmen believe this allows them to ignore stay-at-home and social distancing guidance, they are mistaken. Airmen must do everything possible to protect themselves, others in their local community, and their Wingmen.
Doing everything possible includes calling one’s supervisor and staying home if not feeling well. Airmen tend to go to work sick because it is their badge of honor to support the team and get the mission done. During this pandemic, however, teamwork and mission support means following guidelines issued by the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Part of what makes this disease so dangerous is it can spread from person to person by people who are not aware they have it. Recent reports indicate many Americans, including service members, are testing positive despite having mild symptoms or being asymptomatic. No one wants to be responsible for passing this along to someone with underlying health issues or to those in age brackets it affects most. Lt. Col. Derec Hudson, Air Force Global Strike Command public health officer, says, “Infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, do not think, plan or move on their own. They depend on us to help them.”
Social distancing is critical to this fight. Airmen should minimize time spent in public spaces and avoid gatherings outside the home. If they need to be in public, they should stay at least six feet apart from others and wear a cloth mask when social distancing is not possible. Research has already proven these efforts slow the spread of disease and decrease the number of sick and hospitalized people.
Most Airmen around the world have been under social distancing guidelines for nearly four weeks. As the pandemic continues, the urge to return to our normal lives grows. Airmen need to resist that urge, and restrict public activity to critical mission duties and personal requirements, like seeking medical care and grocery shopping.
The COVID-19 crisis calls for smart decisions and personal sacrifices to defeat the spread of this disease. We must not become complacent. We are all in this together, and for now the best way to fight this is to stay as physically separated as possible.
Colonel Jim Poel is the Chief, Public Health Branch at the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency