How do you stand “shoulder to shoulder” in a time of COVID-19? For the United States Air and Space Forces, and the entire United States military, this is no small question. It is so pressing, in fact, that the Air Force’s medical staff, in collaboration with experts nationwide, have been working nearly around the clock to answer it.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson

The critical responsibilities and missions of our 685,000 total force active duty Guard and Reserve airmen do not fade even during a pandemic. Across a worldwide enterprise, airmen must remain healthy so they can maintain full readiness and the capability to protect the nation’s security and interests.

Achieving those goals often demands airmen work literally “shoulder to shoulder” in tight spaces over long hours. This includes crews aboard aircraft, maintenance personnel on the ground, analysts at remote radar stations, recruits at training centers, and of course, at every Air Force barracks. Even within the Pentagon, thousands of active duty and civilian staff work in tightly bunched cubicles.

With the Coronavirus’s arrival, those arrangements must be modified to ensure not only the health and safety of all personnel but to assure the Air Force’s ability to complete all missions.

Air Force medics and health personnel around the globe are resolutely following and ensuring compliance with guidelines issued by the Department of Defense (DoD) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. Leaders at each of our bases are working closely with local public health officials to actively monitor the health of airmen and their families, as well as to monitor those who have been stricken by COVID-19. By now, most Americans know that safety demands maintaining a social distance beyond which the virus can spread. It means being alert to symptoms including low-grade fever, respiratory distress and body aches.

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, DoD has enacted travel restrictions, including the halt of domestic travel for service members. The goal is to “flatten the disease curve” by slowing the spread of the virus and preventing medical systems from being overwhelmed.

Within the Air Force, medics are executing all available measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in accordance with CDC and force health protection guidelines and remain aligned with state and local public health organizations.

It demands ingenuity and flexibility. In Europe and Asia, where the outbreak has been severe, the Air Force has adjusted health procedures to account for the threat and continues to safely fly fighter and bomber missions to deter aggression. And across the globe, its airlift forces have continued their missions apace, refueling U.S. aircraft and delivering vital cargo.

While it is not known yet know how COVID-19 will evolve, the Air Force will take the actions necessary to protect airmen while also protecting the nation.