JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
For the past two months, the world has been gripped with fear and uncertainty surrounding the recent Coronavirus pandemic, also known as COVID-19. Many people are wondering what they can do to stop the spread and stay healthy and safe. For the masses, the answer is a fairly simple one—stay home, social distance and sanitize.
For essential workers, that may not be as easy as it sounds, especially for Airmen working in the 613th Air Operations Center (AOC) at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Since they are considered essential, they have taken major steps the past month to maintain their mission readiness such as health questionnaires and temperature checks.
“We were given the go ahead by our commander to take whatever precautions necessary to be proactive versus reactive in order to keep our mission essential personnel safe and healthy,” said Capt. Sarah Kenneke, 613th AOC Aeromedical Evacuation Control Team flight nurse instructor. “So I called around to public health and they helped me acquire the necessary tools to do health questionnaires and temperature screenings at the door.”
How it works: The building has a single point of entry and exit. When a person arrives at the AOC for work, they are stopped at a safe distance away to be screened. There is a board with COVID-19 information, health and safety tips, and the color of the day. A trained screener asks them to read the health-screening questionnaire to themselves and respond yes or no to the questions.
If they answer yes to any of the questions, they are directed to call the nurse advice line and their leadership and instructed to go home. If they answer no, their temperature is taken and they are given a color of the day sticker for expedited building re-entry. Finally, they are prompted to use hand sanitizer before touching the door handle to enter the building.
“The 613th's top two priorities are combat capability and Airmen and families and this screening process gets at the heart of them both,” said Col. Jason Rueschhoff, 613th AOC commander. “I am extremely proud of the team’s efforts, urgency, and thoroughness in keeping our AOC safe, healthy, and mission ready.”
Overall, the five-minute process is a simple, effective and important step to ensure the AOC’s 24/7, 365-day mission continues while keeping everyone safe and healthy.
“Everyone from Airmen to Colonel are being screened,” Kenneke said. “It’s been an interesting experience because we’ve had complete buy-in at all levels. Everyone is bringing new ideas and giving feedback in order to make this process work. It’s been amazing to see.”
The screening process has grown and evolved since the AOC implemented it about two weeks ago. For example, the screeners previously asked the questions verbally. Now the questions are printed out for those being screened to read themselves.
“It helps eliminate that human error and minimize transmission. This process is very hands off which is exactly what we want,” said Jonathan Portis, 613th AOC AECT Aeromedical Evacuation planner. “This is definitely a challenging time but this is hazard prevention at its best. Self-distancing is incredibly effective, but if you have to come in to work it’s good to keep it to mission essential personnel to decrease that work density.”
Supervisors also have, and have always had, the power to give their Airmen 24-hour quarters if they deem it necessary, noted Portis.
Since the implementation of the new health screening process, Kenneke has been contacted by other units around the base to help come up with ways to keep their own work areas safe.
“This isn’t just a single unit effort,” Kenneke said. “This is an Air Force-wide, nationwide, worldwide effort to maintain mission ready status. It takes an entire team to keep our Airmen protected and continue the mission.”