By Alicia McNeely, NSA Naples Public Affairs
Over the course of 2020, Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples has undergone many changes, from planned milestones, such as welcoming a new commanding officer, to the unforeseen and unpredictable consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic alone has been a turbulent ride for community members, first with a total, nationwide lockdown in Italy in March to a less restrictive, socially-distanced summer under the “new normal.”
Despite the turmoil of the year, one factor has remained constant since spring: teams onboard NSA Naples are working diligently to protect community members and support the host nation in mitigating COVID-19 spread.
These efforts on the part of NSA Naples personnel and its tenant commands span the distance – from hospital labs to the skies – and this coordination begins in virtual conference rooms.
“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, USNH Naples has partnered with numerous entities to ensure the health and safety of the community,” said Christina Clarke, U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Naples public affairs officer. “Most notably, hospital and base leadership have had daily meetings to sync their information and updates.”
The hospital also founded a COVID-19 public health response team which works around the clock to educate and advise the NSA Naples community and decision makers. The team conducts training on spread prevention, monitors the health of those in quarantine, and performs contact tracing if necessary.
“The COVID public health team worked closely with [Department of Defense Education Activity] schools at NSA Naples to make the changes that safely opened our schools,” said Clarke. “We also have strong connections with our host nation healthcare network to ensure that we are aligned with Italian law when it comes to contact tracing, quarantine, and reporting.”
To further this alliance and enable Italian health officials to focus their time and resources on their own citizens, NSA Naples maintains the responsibility of testing, tracking, and caring for its community members.
When members of the community have questions or concerns regarding the coronavirus, they are able to contact the COVID-19 public health response team at NSA Naples by phone or email. For anyone who does not feel well, a healthcare professional at the hospital or clinic determines if the patient needs a COVID-19 nasal swab test using a series of clinical parameters. Should a patient receive this test, the USNH Naples laboratory is able to process results for a number of swabs.
However, the effort to detect and defeat COVID-19 is truly a collaborative endeavor, and the hospital shares this burden with the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Ramstein, Germany.
Since the spring, air operations teams at NSA Naples have been transporting COVID-19 test samples between Italy and Germany on an essential flight mission coined the “COVID Express”. The COVID Express flies two or three times per week, depending on need. As USNH Naples medical staff test and monitor the health of community members, flights are scheduled for times when the demand for processing and diagnosing results surpasses on-site capabilities. Throughout all evolutions, the COVID Express continually meets the mission.
“We have conducted over 50 missions to deliver samples in support of the testing and contact tracing effort,” said Lt. Cmdr. VJ Omundson, the NSA Naples assistant operations officer. “All tests that needed to be delivered by air have been delivered, resulting in 100% mission completion rate to date.”
While the COVID Express efficiently provides testing results for potentially ill NSA Naples community members, the flights also assist the Italian health system.
“These evolutions have benefited the community by reducing the workload of the host nation,” Omundson said. “If we did not conduct our own tests and have the capacity to fly COVID samples to other military testing facilities, the host nation would have the additional burden of testing patients from the base. Instead our coordinated effort allows the host nation to focus its own testing capacity on host nation citizens.”
In accordance with Navy and Italian regulations, patients who have been tested for COVID-19 go into quarantine – along with members of their household – in order to prevent potential spread while waiting for test results. They also identify close contacts, people with whom they were closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes per day.
Should a patient’s results come back as positive for COVID-19, public health officials conduct contact tracing to determine who may have been exposed and needs to be tested. Regardless of these test results, close contact individuals are recommended to self-isolate for 14 days. Anyone who is positive for COVID-19 must also quarantine for at least 14 days, and sometimes up to 21 days.
“Our community does not exist in a vacuum; we are fighting this pandemic alongside our host nation partners,” said Clarke. “When members of the NSA Naples community follow COVID-19 mitigation measures, it helps prevent the spread both on and off base.”
Every day, personnel throughout NSA Naples continue to work together to combat COVID-19, as they have for the past nine months. USNH Naples medical experts, the COVID Express air operations team and base leadership are united alongside Italy with a common purpose: to protect the health of the NSA Naples community and host nation residents.
NSA Naples is an operational ashore base that enables U.S., allied, and partner nation forces to be where they are needed, when they are needed to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia.
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