Maj. Gen. Sean Bernabe, the 1st Armored Division commander at Fort Bliss, Texas, declared a public health emergency for his post Friday as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the surrounding El Paso area.
The declaration will allow Fort Bliss to better prepare the William Beaumont Army Medical Center on post to care for service members and veterans in the coming weeks, post officials said in a statement.
Bernabe’s declaration will remain in effect for 30 days unless terminated or extended. Public health emergencies, which were common across military installations this spring, allow commanders to take preventive steps to limit the virus’ spread, including restricting base movement and limiting services.
Defense Department guidance does not permit installations to publicly disclose their case numbers.
In a statement to Army Times last week, 1st Armored Division spokeswoman Lt. Col. Allie Payne said “the increase within the city [El Paso] is seen within our populations, although not at the same rates or number of cases.”
A soldier with knowledge of the situation said there have been about 20 coronavirus cases among soldiers with 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, about half of whom are asymptomatic.
El Paso has seen a nearly 160 percent increase in COVID-19 positive rates and a 300 percent increase in hospitalizations since Oct. 1.
U.S. Army Northern Command also announced Friday that it will oversee three 20-person Air Force medical teams sent to El Paso to assist with the COVID-19 response.
The teams are slated to support three El Paso hospitals: the University Medical Center of El Paso, the Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus and the Las Palmas Del Sol Medical Center.
The 60 medical providers come from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi; Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and elsewhere. The teams are expected to arrive at the hospitals this weekend.
The Pentagon provides aggregate COVID-19 case numbers for each service since the global pandemic began. In the Army, the largest service branch, there were, as of Friday, more than 20,600 cases since the onset of the virus.