Following the first few positive COVID-19 cases at Fort Campbell, Army officials established barracks for quarantine and isolation.
One Fort Campbell soldier’s mother expressed concern to the Kentucky New Era after she saw the conditions of the COVID-19 isolation barracks her son was placed in last week.
Fort Campbell and 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Commanding General Maj. Gen. Brian Winski addressed some of those concerns in a phone interview Thursday.
First, he shared that as COVID cases spike across the nation, Fort Campbell hasn’t seen the same rate of increase in cases. Instead, positive cases are on a slow and steady rise rather than a “spike,” Winski said.
“The real good news is not a single soldier has had to have been hospitalized in the spring or during this wave that we see right now,” Winski said.
Winski said soldiers who have been exposed to the coronavirus — whether that be through a positive test or as a contact to a positive case — those individuals are placed in isolation barracks or quarantine barracks.
Isolation barracks are for those who test positive. Quarantine barracks are for those who might have been exposed and are waiting on test results.
The isolation barracks are at Clarksville Base on Fort Campbell, which is where the non-commissioned officer academy usually takes place.
Winski said the academy has gone entirely virtual since the pandemic, leaving the opportunity to use the housing there for the isolation barracks.
“The nature of the barracks … There’s a large block of barracks where a soldier has his or her room and they share a Jack and Jill latrine with a soldier in the other room,” Winski said. “And, we have only isolated, positive soldiers out there because we obviously wouldn’t want to mix them.”
Winski said 101st Airborne Division Artillery is managing the isolation facilities and is responsible for keeping medical staff at the facility to monitor cases, transporting soldiers from quarantine to isolation and providing soldiers in isolation with necessities, such as food, water and other goods.
The quarantine barracks are in the former bachelor officer quarters, and — like the isolation barracks — is a block building with each room having its own sink and a Jack and Jill bathroom shared with another room. Quarantine barracks are also managed by Division Artillery.
Winski explained that Division Artillery will either bring food to the soldiers’ doors and leave it in a to-go tray in the hallway of the barracks or the food is brought to a designated area and served to the soldiers by personnel wearing gloves, masks and other protective equipment.
He went on to explain that COVID-positive soldiers can eat at a designated area socially distanced from other people.
Alyria Salazar, the mother of an active-duty soldier at Fort Campbell, shared with the New Era that her son tested positive July 10 and was later moved into the isolation barracks. She shared her concerns with the conditions of the barracks in a letter to the editor.
“On Tuesday, July 14th, my son was transferred from his regular barrack to the COVID quarantine barrack. My son was transferred to the COVID barracks only to be met with filth and the barest of essentials,” Salazar said.
Salazar said the barracks were dirty, air conditioning was not working and that personnel had stopped bringing her son bottled water.
“My son remains in a most uncomfortable environment along with many others, trying to recover in unsanitary conditions and without medical care or advice,” Salazar said.
Winski addressed some of those concerns Thursday, stating that the United Service Organization had been donating cases of water and those donations had tapered off.
“I know at one point the USO was very generously bringing by sports drinks and cases of bottled water and stuff like that,” Winski said.
“Obviously, every time you have a situation like this there’s a groundswell of support right up front and then it tends to taper off. That may be what we’re experiencing here.
“We also have our preventative medicine team go through these facilities periodically to make sure there’s no health concerns with everything related to cleanliness and anything related to insects, bugs and palpable water availability.”
Winski added that the water out of all the facets in the COVID barracks is drinkable water and is the same water that he and his family drinks daily.
As for cleanliness, Winksi explained, the post has cleaning teams that go into the area where a COVID-positive soldier was living and deep clean it after they’ve been transferred to quarantine or isolation barracks.
“We have clean teams that if a soldier or I (for example) were to become positive COVID, a team that our battalion has would come in here into the office and the surrounding areas, any areas that I touch or have contact with and do a deep sanitizing clean,” Winski said. “I’m talking keyboards, all services, sink, facilities, coffee area, all those sorts of things. Every unit has those clean teams that clean areas that a positive soldier may have been exposed to.”
As for the COVID barracks, Winski said units do a thorough cleaning of the room “as you would expect with any kind of change of occupancy for a hotel room or anything of that nature.”
Winski added that generally, as a soldier transitions into a COVID barrack, units make sure the room is swept out, all trash is removed and it is inspected to be ready for occupancy.
To address Salazar’s concern of her son’s air conditioning not working in his room, Sgt. 1st Class Jo Murphy, who oversees the COVID barracks, said there are no COVID barracks that are entirely without AC at this time.
Murphy said each room in the barracks has its own AC unit, and in the case that one stops working properly or at all, the first thing they will do is move that soldier to another room and submit a work order for that room’s AC unit.
Before maintenance can go into the room to work on the AC, the room has to be entirely sanitized for the protection of those workers that would be going into that room.
Following sanitation, personnel will fix the AC or any other issues with amenities in the room.
Murphy said there are certain rooms in the COVID barracks that are experiencing AC problems.
“We do have in some work orders for some rooms, and I think it’s in two separate facilities,” Murphy said. “And, like I said, (the Directorate of Public Works) always reacts very quickly to any work order that we put in.
“So, there are some (issues with AC), but as soon as we’re notified that AC is out, we mark the room in the color red, which notifies personnel not to put anyone in that room, and then we put in the comments for that room, ‘Work order submitted on this date.’ ”
Winski added that having air conditioning out in a COVID positive soldier’s room would be a large concern for Fort Campbell officials.
“We don’t want somebody that we’re watching to make sure there’s no changes to their health condition in a sweltering room, that’s for sure,” Winski said.
Murphy added that if a soldier is concerned about the conditions of their room, whether it be AC or otherwise, they can contact their immediate chain of command or notify the wellness teams that come into the COVID barracks twice a day to monitor the soldiers.
Winski added that anyone, for instance a loved one of a soldier, with concerns or questions can contact Fort Campbell’s Public Affairs Office at 270-798-0553.
Each unit at Fort Campbell also has a family readiness group that family members of soldier’s can contact.