Hill COVID-19, masks

Lt. Shane Scantling wears a mask while counting money at Hill Air Force Base on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — While COVID-19 case counts reach new highs in Weber and Davis counties, the military installation situated between them has been chosen as one of four bases across the country to take part in a large-scale testing study being completed by the Department of Defense.

Earlier this month, the Air Force began a phased COVID-19 testing program to randomly test military and eventually civilian personnel at four bases, hoping to identify and contain pockets of the novel coronavirus. According to a news release from the Air Force Material Command, Hill Air Force Base, along with Edwards AFB, California; Eglin AFB, Florida; and Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts, will begin the study by testing random, active-duty airmen every two weeks for a two-month period.

At Hill, base healthcare workers will be tested during the first phase of the program, then followed by on-base dorm residents, general wing personnel and, finally, members of the installation’s general workforce.

The Air Force hasn’t specified why Hill was chosen for the program, but the sprawling, 7,000-acre installation is Utah’s largest single-site employer and the Air Force’s second largest base by population. Between its government civilian, active-duty Air Force and military contractor workforce, Hill employs about 25,000 people, according to an annual Economic Impact Statement released by the base earlier this year. And as the home for the Air Force’s first combat-capable F-35 unit, deployment cycles on base have picked up over the past several years, with airmen leaving the country for a time, then coming back to Utah.

As part of the study, the Air Force will test airmen without symptoms of COVID-19 and hopes to determine if any additional public health actions are needed to battle the virus on military bases. The release says, ultimately, the Air Force wants to detect and isolate the virus, stopping its spread to “ensure airmen and the Air Force community remain healthy and able to fly, fight and win in air, space, and cyberspace.”

During the initial weeks of the pandemic, a running tally of positive COVID-19 cases was made available on Hill’s website, but Donovan Potter, media chief with Hill’s 75th Air Base Wing, previously told the Standard-Examiner that due to growing security concerns and in order to protect the nation’s combat readiness status, those numbers are no longer released to the public.

The Air Force releases aggregate numbers but does not specify at which installations the positive cases have occurred. According to the numbers released last week by the secretary of the Air Force, the service has had 12,036 total positive cases of COVID-19 as of Oct. 5. The positives include active-duty, civilian and contractor personnel, as well as dependents. Among positive cases, 17 people have died and more than 7,000 are considered recovered.

The Hill testing effort comes on the heels of continued increases in positive COVID-19 cases in Northern Utah. The Weber-Morgan Health Department reported 458 new cases of COVID-19 for the week ending Oct. 10, the previous high for a one-week increases was during the middle of July, when 413 new cases were reported for the week that ended July 18. Davis County surpassed 750 new positive cases last week, far above the county’s mid-July high of around 430.

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