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Offutt Air Force Base makes first moves toward loosening coronavirus restrictions

Offutt Air Force Base makes first moves toward loosening coronavirus restrictions

Offutt Coronavirus Gate Testing 1 200407-F-OH250-1085 -- (copy)

In this file photo from April, an airman at Offutt Air Force Base queries a visitor about health symptoms. The health screening is one of several measures enacted in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some restrictions at Offutt are now being lifted, 55th Wing officials have announced.

Citing a leveling-off of new COVID-19 cases in the Omaha metro area, 55th Wing Commander Col. Gavin Marks has taken the first steps toward loosening the 3-month-old pandemic restrictions at Offutt Air Force Base.

Marks gave Offutt military commands the go-ahead to allow up to 50% of their personnel to work from on-base offices beginning Monday. To accommodate additional traffic, he allowed the reopening of the Kenney Gate (on Fort Crook Road just south of Highway 370) for the first time since March.

He said the lifting of some restrictions was recommended by the public health working group he created earlier this year to offer advice on handling the pandemic, which has caused the deaths of more than 115,000 Americans.

“Our transition is not without risk,” Marks said in a post on his official Facebook page. “(The working group) will continue to monitor data (daily) and recommend the path forward.”

Over the weekend, Marks permitted the reopening of Offutt’s outdoor recreation center and Willow Lakes Golf Course, with certain social distancing restrictions in place.

He also announced the resumption of daily Catholic Mass at the Offutt chapel Monday, with Protestant services returning Sunday — although with “significant changes to procedures,” according to a post on the commander’s Facebook page.

Other services that reopened Monday include: the Aero Club flight operations; the arts and crafts facility; the auto hobby garage; the base barbershops; and the car wash, though some operations are by appointment only.

The base’s dining facility, which has been open for takeout service, reopened its grill and serving lines and expanded its menu.

Marks pointed to the improvement of data related to COVID-19 — specifically, he said, the number of new infections compared with the number tested in the area.

“There are certainly things to be optimistic about,” Marks said in the post, “Our local hospital and testing capacity remains adequate (and) our numbers of personnel on the installation in quarantine or isolation remains manageable.”

He warned Offutt airmen, though, to continue to follow mask-wearing, sanitizing and social distancing guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the base.

“I know that we will (regrettably) have more positive cases. There may be a need to, on occasion, ratchet up restrictions or shut down services depending upon the circumstances,” Marks said. “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Photos: Our best staff images from June 2020

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The floods of 2019 have left hundreds of aircraft maintainers working in Offutt Air Force Base’s two largest hangars without hot water or toilets. For a year, that has been an unpleasant inconvenience. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic making frequent hand-washing necessary, some fear that the situation could be a hazard to their health.

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