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Some Commissary prices could rise

Updates: Fewer new cases, some Madigan personnel getting the disease

First Lt. Tiffany Mendez watches as Spc. Jonathan Whitford dons his personal protective equipment as they prepare for COVID-19 patients at Madigan Army Medical Center. Photo credit: John Wayne Liston

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Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) saw fewer new cases of COVID-19 this past week, but medical staff are getting the disease, and officials said some prices at the Commissary will likely rise.

Lt. Gen Randy George, I Corps and JBLM commander, held his weekly Facebook Live event Tuesday, leading off with the good news that virus cases on JBLM have been less, indicating that social distancing is working. 

George said May 4 is still the first possible date that restrictions will be relaxed; however, because 70 percent of military and families live off base, until the virus outbreak is mitigated both on and off the base, he will continue to follow Washington state's recommendations on shelter-in-place.

When rules start to relax, George said there will be a gradual re-opening of services and activities. As examples, he said the first noticeable changes would likely be that the recycling center opens, guards taken away from the Exchange, computer access at the library available, and fishing and golf resuming with social distancing still enforced.

George added, "we need to be vigilant the next few weeks so we don't lose our momentum against the virus."

Garrison Commander Skye Duncan said the Commissary has been restocking; however, some food shortages are expected, and shoppers could see a rise in items such as egg and meat prices. Certain items may stay in short supply as vendors focus on their best-selling items.

George again noted that re-openings wouldn't happen as quickly as they shut down. He said, some things could take months to return to normal, using PCS moves as an example of a delayed process.

George also encouraged military and families to focus on their health and to find ways each day to spread cheer. He encouraged people to be warm to each other, and help neighbors where they can, safely.

Madigan is working towards having anyone with virus symptoms tested. Due to capacity issues, they have limited testing to higher-risk patients, but to get a better idea of the disease, they hope in the next week to start testing anyone with symptoms.

In a related story, Madigan has seen some of its care providers test positive for COVID-19.

As much as people might wish that infection be entirely controllable and those providing medical care can avoid exposure and infection altogether, that is not a realistic view, according to Maj. Leanna Gordon, Madigan's chief of epidemiology and disease control in a story at

"Look at things as whether each was a preventable infection or non-preventable; I suspect most of these are non-preventable. But, again, we don't know yet," she said.

Some nurses and providers have been put into isolation who were not in a room with an infected patient.

Given that a person can be a vector spreading disease without having any symptoms oneself, a clinician could have been exposed in the community, by family, from touching a contaminated surface, or in some other way that is yet unknown.

"This is not just unique to Madigan. This is happening at hospitals across the country," said Gordon about clinicians testing positive without obvious sources of infection.

Madigan has consolidated care into a single ward for COVID-19 patients only, turning a floor that was partially in use for administration into a full-fledged, isolation ward within 48 hours.

Additionally, to funnel potentially positive patients into limited areas, the Winder Soldier-Centered Medical Home has relocated its standard care appointments to the McChord Clinic so that it can serve as a site to triage ill patients.

Typically, nurses in the inpatient units will rotate the patients they care for throughout their work week. For COVID-19 care, these rotations have stopped; a single nurse sees the same patient for all their shifts now. This is just another step to minimize exposure.

At any given time, Madigan may have one or more patients in isolation under strict precautions. That means entry into their negative pressure room, which does not allow air to leave the room, is severely limited and only allowed with proper PPE use.

Other highlights of Tuesday's briefing included:

  • It is highly unlikely there will be military exercises this summer and fall.
  • George said there will be summer block leave -- but he didn't have specifics on units.
  • Curbside pickup currently available at the McChord BX will be available at the PX once construction there is complete. There is no plan for curbside or online ordering for the Commissary.
  • A couple more gates, currently closed, could open as things progress; however, George said the base is studying leaving some closed much longer.

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