Hill Air Force Base COVID-19

Staff Sgt. Pablo Durand, 75th Medical Group, swabs Chief Master Sgt. Eric Engel, 421st Fighter Squadron, for COVID-19 during a medical screening May 15, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — As positive COVID-19 cases spike in several counties in Northern Utah, the commander of Hill Air Force Base is urging the base populace to stay vigilant.

But exactly what the virus landscape looks like inside the walls of Utah’s largest military installation is unclear and will probably remain that way.

Col. Jon Eberlan, commander of Hill’s 75th Air Base Wing, recently outlined base COVID-19 preventive requirements and recommendations in an advisory that was released on Hill’s website. Eberlan said base employees are currently required to wear face coverings in public areas and work centers on base when 6 feet of physical distance cannot be maintained. He also said many operations on base require face coverings, regardless of social distancing.

The commander also encouraged additional mitigation measures across the base, including telework, disinfection plans, and strict hygiene guards like no hand-shaking, frequent hand washing and cleaning of common-use items. He said base personnel should stay home if they are feeling sick, even if symptoms are mild.

The advisory comes on the heels of continued increases in positive COVID-19 cases in Northern Utah. The Weber-Morgan Health Department reported 305 new coronavirus cases for the week ending July 4, 66 more new cases than was seen the week before. Since June 6, the case count has more than tripled in the two-county area, from 398 to 1,222 as of Sunday. As of July 5, there had been 1,422 positive cases in Davis County, up from 543 one month ago.

“This is not a time to let our guard down,” Eberlan said in the advisory. “Wearing face coverings is an important part of our infection control strategy to help prevent the spread and should be worn whether you’re on or off base.”

The sprawling, 7,000-acre installation is Utah’s largest single-site employer. 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.

During the initial weeks of the pandemic, a running tally of positive COVID-19 cases was made available on Hill’s website, but due to growing security concerns, those numbers are no longer released to the public.

“In order to protect operational security, as we preserve the nation’s combat readiness, we don’t release the number of cases at our base,” said Donovan Potter, spokesperson for the 75th ABW.

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 2,300 positive cases among active-duty, civilian and contractor personnel, as well as dependents. Among those, five people have died and 846 are considered recovered.

There is currently a group of airmen from Hill’s 388th and 419th fighter wings deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, supporting the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the region. In June, hundreds of airmen returned to the base after a deployment to the same region.

Col. Steven Behmer, commander of the 388th FW, said all of the returning airmen are required to quarantine for 14 days to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. After quarantining, the airmen are allowed to take rest and relaxation leave but are not allowed to leave the state of Utah, in accordance with the Department of Defense’s current coronavirus travel regulations.

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