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Will JBLM follow state restrictions?

Base commander weighing readiness -- may announce the opening of some services next Tuesday

Lt. Gen. Randy George addressed the public Tuesday during a Facebook Live town hall meeting. Photo credit: Facebook Live

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Lt. Gen. Randy George, I Corp and Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) commander said Tuesday afternoon that he had planned to stick with Washington state guidelines in effect (at that moment in time) until May 4; however, 90 minutes after the CG's announcement during a JBLM Town Hall, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced that the majority of shelter-in-place orders would extend beyond that date.

Inslee said the state health officer believes the spread of COVID-19 is likely declining in Washington state, based on data on hospitalizations, confirmed cases and deaths, but he still urged caution.

"The data tells us that if we were to lift all restrictions right now -- or even two weeks from now -- this decline would almost certainly stop and the spread of COVID-19 would go up," he said, adding that "to turn back on this successful temporary approach now would be disastrous."

"We're going to take steps and then monitor to see whether (opening up some services) work or if we must continue to adapt," Inslee added. "We will not be able to lift many of the restrictions by May 4."

How does that update affect JBLM?

George said prior to Inslee's announcement that he'll try to stay within the state shelter-in-place orders, but he said he also had to weigh unit readiness. 

George praised Inslee's "common sense approach" to the COVID-19 crisis. "We've been in line with Governor Inslee," George added. "We would like to stay in line and we will do that as much as possible."

How to do that is up in the air.

"I also have to weigh, though, our readiness, and that is something we are looking at," George said.

George said commanders are looking at unit and individual readiness training that can be accomplished with social distancing; however, he left open the door that training may have to evolve.

"I am looking at our ability to maintain readiness." George said he will take the decisions to follow state recommendations for social distancing week by week following May 4.

George did announce he's already considering opening some base services, and he will make that final decision by next Tuesday.

George also said some PCS moves will be deferred, and others may not happen.

George said a decision to open some areas on base are to mostly support the soldiers living in barracks. Those facilities under consideration include the Skeet & Trap facility, Army and Air Force testing centers, the off-road vehicle complex and Whispering Firs Golf Course.

"Thankfully (we are) not seeing many positive COVID cases on JBLM," George said. However, there are still some new cases, so staying with social distancing regulations will continue. 

George also referenced the DoD's decision last Saturday to extend the hold in place on military and unit moves until at least June 30 (see page 2 story for additional coverage).

George asked military and families to be "positive." He said some people will PCS to meet certain Army needs, while others will move later than earlier planned. He also said some people won't move, but he wasn't specific if that means some moves will be cancelled.

"You may not get the departure date you wanted," George added. 

The following are other points made Tuesday at the town hall:

  • Freedom Fest will not be July 4, instead it will be moved to the last weekend right before school starts. 
  • The CDC centers will re-open as required by missions, and as can be done safely. Garrison Commander Skye Duncan said those plans are being made down to each child. George said "it is a pacing function for us." 
  • Nearly all appointments can be done virtually through Madigan. Some specialties have seen 30 to 80 percent growth in virtual appointments, and could continue in part beyond COVID-19.
  • Nine gates are currently open with light traffic. George said there are trigger points to start opening more gates, but he said he'd like to possibly keep D Street closed seeing there is another gate along the DuPont-Steilacoom Road.
  • McChord expects to see missions come back in the next two to three weeks.
  • At JBLM, George sees a ramp up of work to include more maintenance activities, getting rid of excess, pick up personal readiness, and individual training skills. Following that, expect to see a couple units go to Pathways later in the fall and their training will ramp up.
  • As for summer children programs, Duncan didn't have any specifics. "Candidly, all of these are up in the air."
  • If residents see people violating social distancing rules such as playing basketball on base courts, they can call the provost marshal's non-emergency line at 253.912.4442. If you see people taking off their mask inside the commissary where masks are required, you may remind them, Duncan said. The decision to require masks at the commissaries is not made by JBLM's command. It is a requirement made by the Defense Commissary Agency.
  • There is no hiring freeze on JBLM except for MWR, but people can't start work if they come to work outside the 50-mile radius rule, a rule which has been extended through June 30. Search
  • Bulk pickup for the base will resume, but no date is available.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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