The US military is using 'isolation in motion' to protect crews on its biggest planes from the coronavirus
- The US military has halted most of the movement of its personnel in response to the spread of the coronavirus.
- But parts of the military have to keep moving as part of the US government's response to that pandemic.
- That includes the members of the mobility mission, who are moving supplies, equipment, and patients around the world.
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A 60-day stop-movement order from the Pentagon in late March, meant to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, threw the lives of many US military personnel into uncertainty, as it kept them from leaving for or returning from deployment or from traveling to new duty stations.But the military remains a vital part of the US government's response to the pandemic, of which its mobility element, the air component in particular, has been a major part.Advertisement
Transportation Command, which manages that mobility mission, has seen "a reduction in movements" as a result of that order, Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of that command, told reporters on March 31. "But we are also seeing a necessity to continue to operate for mission-essential tasks and operations."Transportation Command is focused on protecting the force against the outbreak, maintaining mission readiness, and remaining ready to support the FEMA and other interagency efforts to counter the outbreak, Lyons said.
Operations by Air Mobility Command, Transcom's air component, are "consistent" with the those priorities, Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, AMC's deputy commander, told reporters on April 3.Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you'd like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your story.
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The Air Force has given local commanders authority to act to stay ahead of the threat and is encouraging airmen to follow CDC guidelines, Thomas said.
To maintain operational capability, Thomas said, "we're doing things like medical screening, temperature checks, and other measures for aircrew and passengers transiting areas of COVID-19 risk."Advertisement
"Obviously when you're in the cockpit, there's no way to get 6 foot apart," Lyons said when asked about social distancing in aircraft. "The way that we're managing our flight crews is unique in many ways, and we're trying to create an isolated system of systems, if you would, even in motion."
Lyons said Transcom was working to keep aircrews "very, very isolated" to avoid picking up the disease. "You might characterize it as isolation in motion."Advertisement
AMC missions are affected by local conditions, and "commanders are taking the actions that they need to protect the parts of their force that are most critical to sustaining the readiness and the missions that we've got to perform," Thomas said, actions including "limiting the movement of certain elements of the force."
Transcom and AMC continue to support the coronavirus response by moving supplies and equipment across the country and around the world.Advertisement
Transcom and AMC have also moved COVID-19 patients, which poses a different set of challenges.
"Our approach to patient movement for COVID, particularly for highly contagious patients, is to move them in an isolation system," either via air ambulance or with the Transportation Isolation System developed during the Ebola crisis, Lyons said.Advertisement
"Aeromedical evacuation is one of AMC's core missions" and one it's done frequently over the past 20 years, Thomas said, noting that bio-containment units like the TIS were "the best means" to move COVID-19 patients.
The TIS allows in-flight treatment of infected patients without exposing the aircraft's crew. Thomas said Friday that his command hadn't gotten specific requests to move a patient in that system and that AMC had "not conducted any evacuations of a COVID-19-infected patient to date."Advertisement
AMC has interim COVID patient movement capability on alert in several places around the planet, Thomas said, adding that "in the event increased volume of patient flow is required, AMC will be prepared to increase throughput using other means."
Lyons also declined to discuss specifics when asked how many Transcom personnel had tested positive for COVID-19. But he said his command's positive rates were "very, very low — single digits across the entire mobility enterprise."Advertisement
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