The 509th Medical Group works to mitigate the spread of COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Thomas Johns
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

To help combat COVID-19, the 509th Medical Group at Whiteman Air Force Base has implemented various changes and precautions for Airmen and their families to stay safe and healthy during the worldwide pandemic.


From a curbside pharmacy delivery to telehealth services, the innovative initiatives that Team Whiteman’s healthcare heroes have instituted are continuously helping to flatten the curve.


To ensure the safety of Team Whiteman, the 509th MDG has implemented changes that fall in line with White House guidance, Center for Disease Control guidelines, and DoD health protection conditions.


“The medical group is focused on four major lines of effort; medical surveillance, reducing exposures, tracing and isolation, and risk communication,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Kallyn Harencak, the 509th MDG Chief of Aerospace Medicine.


According to Harencak, these lines of effort allow the 509th MDG to develop timely recommendations for base leaders, which have been coordinated with the local community to reduce transmission on and off WAFB. The Medical Group also participates in exchanging real time information by exercising clear and transparent public communication through live-streamed question-and-answer sessions on social media, virtual town halls, and precautionary messages.


To streamline their virus response efforts, the 509th MDG set up a COVID Clinic to handle specific COVID-19 issues.  The clinic provides telephone triage and drive-through testing to diagnose patients with COVID-19. The clinic also established a 24/7 hotline to answer questions regarding the coronavirus and to assist patients with positive test results and contact tracing.


The 509th MDG also implemented precautions to comply with social distancing by providing a  curbside pharmacy delivery service, and instituting guidelines such as reduced manning and hours for facilities and modified services. In response to the mental health concerns of the pandemic, the Mental Health Clinic created a psychological support hotline for those experiencing hardships due lifestyle changes resulting from public health preventive measures and continued social distancing efforts.  Furthermore, to assist with the fight against the virus, the 509th MDG implemented temperature checks for anyone entering the base clinic.


With the precautions, integral services such as ambulance services remained in 24/7 operations, however, non-emergency appointments have been integrated into telehealth instead of face-to-face appointments.


“The majority of these measures will be in place at differing levels until after a vaccine has been fielded and herd immunity has developed,” said U.S. Air Force Col. (Dr.) Chrystal Henderson, 509th MDG commander. “The base and the surrounding community are in the process of re-opening and relaxing restrictive measures now that cases have been on the decline.  If there are additional waves of spread in the future, we are poised to reinstate the recently relaxed measures and possibly use more restrictive ones, if needed.”


While the medical group is working on reducing transmissions across WAFB, they are also working hand in hand with Johnson County to help keep Airmen and their families safe, as well as the local communities. The efforts in limiting transmission in the local community stem from a network of direct lines of communication to share information on the virus, and important facts concerning those infected.


“Several medical group personnel are a part of the Johnson County Task Force and take part in weekly meetings regarding case counts, tracking, medical resources, and planning to re-open the community in the future,” Harencak said. “Our public health departments are closely linked, and we reach out regularly to Pettis County, Henry County, and Eastern Jackson County to ensure we have direct lines of communication.”


To help manage the 509th Medical Group’s COVID-19 response, extra help was needed.


“To manage the increased operations, public health had to increase to 24/7 operations,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Booker, the 509th MDG Public Health NCO in charge. “We recruited public health technicians who are serving in special duties in other units on the base and augmentee personnel from other career fields. The extra manning allows us to be meticulous in contact tracing and communicating to those who may have been impacted by COVID-19.”


Although the Medical Group and local partners have worked to reduce transmission across Johnson County, as local business begins to open up, Harencak urges Airmen and families to continue to use established precautions like handwashing, face coverings, and to stay home as much as they can.


“Return to work does not mean a return to a pre-COVID life,” Harencak said. “Please make sure to continue to make smart decisions to protect yourself, your wingmen, and our mission. If you are starting to get sick, please don’t assume your symptoms are mild and ‘probably not’ COVID-19. Leave that up to the professionals.”


According to Harencak, the best data available suggests the world could be dealing with COVID-19 for the next 12-24 months while the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization work to find a vaccine.


Col. Henderson expressed the importance of continuing to follow precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


“We need for everyone to understand that what we do as a community over the next few months will determine what happens in the Fall when flu season arrives. There is a strong possibility that we will be dealing with COVID-19 and influenza at the same time,” Henderson said. “We need to make sure we are still doing the basic preventive measures leading up to and during that time in order to prevent a large spike is cases for both which will very quickly overwhelm our medical resources and have us right back where we were 1-2 months ago.  This is a marathon, not a sprint and we need people to be patient and be cautious.”


If you have questions about COVID-19, or if you have concerns about symptoms, please call the Local Nurse Advice Line at (660) 687-2188.