Virus brings ‘business as usual’ to standstill

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The control tower at Edwards AFB (Courtesy photo)
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A potentially fatal virus, much akin to germ warfare, has spread globally to foreign lands, even attacking residents across the United States.

At press time, 179,111 cases and 7,426 deaths are confirmed worldwide and those numbers continue to rise. At press time, no cases are reported at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., but officials there maintain a close watch.

On March 19, The 412th Test Wing Commander, Col. Matthew Higer, announced that Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., will be open only to mission essential personnel and residents effective March 20. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., will be open only to mission essential personnel.

As part of added safety measures, South Gate will be closed to all traffic indefinitely.

All members of Team Edwards are authorized to report to work to gather teleworking provisions or personal possessions. Those who are not able to telework will be placed on administrative leave. Personnel are advised to consult their commander, director or supervisor for specific mission essential clarification.

The move is in response to the current Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. As of press time, there are currently no confirmed cases on the base and remains in Health Protection Condition B. The added protective measures were taken as a precautionary measure to ensure the health and safety of Team Edwards.

The base is currently in Health Protection Measures B, a Bravo Alert. But, the continuously changing spread of the novel coronavirus, commonly called COVID-19, means this could be revised to a higher level of caution at any moment. The next level of severity would be a Charlie Alert.

The Bravo level means that health protection methods proscribed are moderate. “Strict hygiene (no handshaking, wipe common use items); if exposed, self-isolate (wear mask or remain home); avoid contaminated water/food or risk area; vector control.” along with a review of existing plans and verification of preparations needed to handle an outbreak.

An email received by base residents and personnel said, “If you experience symptoms like fever, a cough and difficulty breathing, call ahead to your medical provider for the 412th Medical Group.” That announcement included contact information to schedule a medical appointment.

That email also advised recipients who come into contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 or who has recently traveled to a country where there has been widespread contamination, to contact the local health department or the 412th MDG Public Health office.

Health Protection Condition Bravo is defined as a situation where there is an “outbreak or heightened exposure risk.” Email recipients were encouraged to practice proper hand hygiene, cough/sneeze etiquette and to stay home if sick.

Grady Fontana, Chief of Media Operations at Edwards, said a decision from the Secretary of the Air Force was handed down to cancel tours at the base “and all forms of public outreach.”
While the LA County Air Show and air shows at various installations have been cancelled, the air show planned at Edwards in October is still scheduled, according to Fontana.

“As of now,” Fontana said, “there are no known cases on base.” Testing for COVID-19 would not be done on base, but instead at a local health department if someone is suspected of being infected.

On March 17, NASA leadership elevated all centers and facilities to Stage 3 of NASA’s Response Framework — including NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif.

Effective immediately, all NASA employees and contractors will move to mandatory telework until further notice. Mission-essential personnel will continue to be granted access onsite. Employees are asked to contact their supervisor as soon as possible if they have any questions.

“Although a limited amount of employees have tested positive for COVID-19, it is imperative that we take this pre-emptive step to thwart further spreading of the virus among the workforce and our communities,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator. “A list of collaboration tools and information supporting telework is available on NASA’s Remote Collaboration Services webpage.

“I strongly encourage you and your families to follow all local, state and federal guidelines to stay healthy and to help slow the spread of the virus,” Bridenstine continued.

However, on March 19, NASA announced that the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi have been moved to Stage 4 of the NASA Response Framework, effective March 20.

“Agency leadership will continue to monitor the rapidly-evolving risks COVID-19 poses to our workforce,” he said. “You should anticipate continued frequent communication from your center director, myself and others. Up-to-date agency announcements and guidelines are available on the NASA People website, please check it often.”

Bridenstine also asked NASA personnel to take care of their families.

“NASA’s early and thoughtful actions in coordination with our country’s unified response to this health emergency is an incredible display of national solidarity. Thank you for your vigilance and flexibility,” he said. “I am confident your diligence and commitment will ensure our mission will continue. Please make certain you are giving the appropriate attention to your health and that of your family.”

Employees at three top performing aerospace companies have taken similar cautionary measures as a means of protecting their workforce and business partners along with the public at large.

Vic Beck, a Northrop Grumman spokesman, said, “We continue to closely monitor this rapidly evolving situation so we can quickly address concerns and impacts to our employees and our operations, and we are ready with contingency plans as the situation continues to develop.”

“We are taking proactive steps to ensure a safe workplace for employees and visitors, including cleaning of work areas and common spaces,” Beck said.

“We have cancelled large meetings and gatherings and have implemented virtual meeting options; we have halted all international travel’ and we have implemented additional screening procedures for all visitors to our facilities.”

“The safety and well-being of our employees is our top priority and we are ensuring our employees are informed,” Beck noted.

Lockheed Martin headquarters in Bethesda, Md., released the following statement in mid-March, citing the health and well-being of the company’s employees and partners as a top priority:
“As we monitor global developments, we continue to use best practices to mitigate risks related to Coronavirus, COVID-19. Across Lockheed Martin, employees with potential exposure are instructed to work remotely and self-quarantine. Additionally, we have instructed employees to avoid travel to or through specific areas in Asia and Europe and have limited all other international and domestic travel to ensure it is necessary for business.”

“We are pre-screening visitors to company locations and limiting guests to ensure visits are necessary for business. When the circumstances warrant, we deep clean work areas and common spaces in any facility with elevated exposure to COVID-19 and regularly share exposure prevention protocols to reinforce healthy behaviors.”

A Lockheed employee in Sunnyvale, Calif., reportedly tested positive for the virus in early March. It is unclear whether that is the same individual identified as testing positive by NASA. That employee’s work area, as well as common areas, were sanitized and the company asked other employees who came in contact with that employee to self-quarantine, according to online sources.

Lockheed also reportedly suspended production of the F-35 in Japan because of concerns related to the Coronavirus. In early February, Lockheed officials decided the company would not participate in the Singapore Airshow because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The Boeing website stated that its chief medical officer, together with the company’s International Health Services team, “is continuously tracking health conditions” using guidance from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Boeing also “continues to and evolve its emergency management procedures” as a means of addressing the Coronavirus outbreak. Boeing expressed the same concerns acknowledged by other entities in the business world and at government agencies, and the company is taking similar steps toward safety and prevention.

Regarding the effects on veteran health care resources, no one from the Public Affairs Office at the Veterans Association of Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System was available for comment on how that agency is dealing with the situation. They are the designated respondent authorized to answer questions regarding the Antelope Valley VA Clinic in Lancaster.

As far as the William J. “Pete” Knight Veterans Home in Lancaster, Lindsey Sin, Acting Deputy Secretary of Communications for the California Department of Veterans Affairs, said, “There are no suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 at any of our veterans homes,” she said.

“CalVet has long had protocols in place to deal with the flu or other viruses that may impact our homes, and those protocols are being updated daily in response to COVID-19.” Sin said protocols include screening all visitors at all of the homes — the Lancaster facility is one of eight.

On March 13, immediate family members were allowed visits for veterans needing higher levels of care, such as a Skilled Nursing Facility; Residential Care For the Elderly; and at an Intermediate Care Facility.

By March 16, that changed. Sin updated the information saying, “At the direction of state and federal health officials, beginning March 15, “we will only allow visitors to our Hospice Care residents. Visitation to all other levels of care will be postponed until further notice. We have notified residents and families of this change and will work with them to stay connected remotely.”

In addition to conscientious cleaning of facilities, the facilities are minimizing contact between residents by serving some meals in their rooms and postponing group activities and outings.
 
 
 

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