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Grand Forks AFB public health team acts fast to combat virus

Airmen with the 319th Logistics Readiness Squadron work together to fill a small pool with soapy water to clean thousands of toys January 18, 2019, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. Toys from the Child Development Center and Youth Programs went through a deep-clean over a period of several days: first soaked in a bleach solution, then hand-scrubbed in soapy water and rinsed with clean water before being left to air-dry. The thorough process ensured once sanitized, all frequently-used toys could be returned to base children without risk re-infecting them with a gastrointestinal virus which affected nearly more than 100 personnel and family members in the weeks prior. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Elora J. Martinez)

Airmen with the 319th Logistics Readiness Squadron work together to fill a small pool with soapy water to clean thousands of toys January 18, 2019, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. Toys from the Child Development Center and Youth Programs went through a deep-clean over a period of several days: first soaked in a bleach solution, then hand-scrubbed in soapy water and rinsed with clean water before being left to air-dry. The thorough process ensured once sanitized, all frequently-used toys could be returned to base children without risk re-infecting them with a gastrointestinal virus which affected nearly more than 100 personnel and family members in the weeks prior. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Elora J. Martinez)

Airman 1st Class Gianna Leupp, 319th Logistics Readiness Squadron customer service representative, scrubs toys from the base Child Development Center and Youth Programs in a bath of soapy water January 18, 2019, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. After several base members contracted a highly-contagious gastrointestinal virus, base public health advised all public-access toys were soaked in a bleach solution prior to being scrubbed in soapy water, rinsed in clean water and air-dried in order to be properly sanitized. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Elora J. Martinez)

Airman 1st Class Gianna Leupp, 319th Logistics Readiness Squadron customer service representative, scrubs toys from the base Child Development Center and Youth Programs in a bath of soapy water January 18, 2019, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. After several base members contracted a highly-contagious gastrointestinal virus, base public health advised all public-access toys were soaked in a bleach solution prior to being scrubbed in soapy water, rinsed in clean water and air-dried in order to be properly sanitized. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Elora J. Martinez)

Toys air-dry after going through a sanitation process to include a bleach-solution soak, soapy water scrub, and final rinse January 18, 2019, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. More than 20 Airmen with the 319th Logistics Readiness Squadron worked transferring toys between each station, scrubbing toys of all sizes and ensuring each nook and cranny was dry prior to being returned to their origins- the base Child Development Center and Youth Programs. The toys needed to be cleaned after several Grand Forks AFB family members and personnel came down with a highly-contagious gastrointestinal virus, which spread to the CDC and other high-traffic areas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Elora J. Martinez)

Toys air-dry after going through a sanitation process to include a bleach-solution soak, soapy water scrub, and final rinse January 18, 2019, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. More than 20 Airmen with the 319th Logistics Readiness Squadron worked transferring toys between each station, scrubbing toys of all sizes and ensuring each nook and cranny was dry prior to being returned to their origins- the base Child Development Center and Youth Programs. The toys needed to be cleaned after several Grand Forks AFB family members and personnel came down with a highly-contagious gastrointestinal virus, which spread to the CDC and other high-traffic areas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Elora J. Martinez)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --

Winter is infamous for wreaking havoc on immune systems and taking people down with the common cold, but when numbers abnormally started to rise on Grand Forks Air Force Base of military members, spouses and children experiencing a gastrointestinal virus in December, members of the 319th Medical Group took notice.

Capt. Clay Whiddon, 319 MDG public health element chief, explained the chain of events which led to a base-wide effort to tackle the onset of a virus, which was quickly spreading.

Whiddon credits the good communication between different organizations on base as one of the main roles in initially spotting the virus.

“The Child Development Center, doctors and first sergeants called to let public health know a lot of people were going down with something,” Whiddon said, continuing on to detail how the 319 MDG responded proactively and began conducting tests and investigations to pinpoint which virus was affecting Grand Forks AFB personnel and families.

“After we were alerted about what was going on, public health technicians printed off 200 gastrointestinal questionnaires and got in touch with everyone who presented symptoms, whether linked to the virus or not,” Whiddon explained.

As the 319 MDG sent samples to a state laboratory to officially identify the virus, base leadership decided to shut down the CDC and Youth Programs to prevent further spread.

After receiving this direction, other base agencies quickly went to work fighting the spread of what later was confirmed as norovirus.

The 319th Contracting Flight awarded a contract practically overnight in order to professionally clean the CDC and Youth Programs, allowing the facilities to safely reopen just days after closing.

The 319th Force Support Squadron, 319th Logistics Readiness Squadron and 319th Mission Support Group worked diligently even during off-duty hours to sanitize gym equipment, common public areas and thousands of toys, ensuring the community’s chances of being re-infected were minimal.

During the base-wide sanitation efforts, the small team of public health technicians, ranging from Airmen to senior enlisted leaders, provided wing leadership recommendations for communication plans in order to keep the base population up to date.  

“We knew we wanted to be forward with the information we had,” Whiddon said. “The quick response from leadership, outstanding communication through public affairs and the community’s great reaction made a difference in preventing the spread of the virus.”

Whiddon praised the cooperation and faith of the Grand Forks AFB community, mentioning how crucial it was that people stayed home to wait out the illness rather than spreading it in the workplace or other high-trafficked areas to include the dining hall, fitness center and childcare facilities.

“I don’t think any base beside Grand Forks would have had a community response like that,” he exclaimed.