Updated March 19, 2020 - 5:26 pm
A service member from the NATO military alliance who was at Nellis Air Force Base has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, base officials announced Thursday.
It’s the first confirmed case at Nellis and the man, who visited the base for Red Flag exercises, entered isolation when symptoms arose and will remain in quarantine, officials said.
The service member has received medical treatment, and the base is following federal guidelines for personnel who had close contact with the affected service member.
Flight operations for Red Flag 20-2, which was scheduled to run March 6 through Friday, were stopped earlier this week, according to an email sent Thursday afternoon to Air Force personnel and obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
In the email, 99th Air Base Wing Commander Col. Cavan Craddock said the NATO member was tested for COVID-19 Monday night.
“We just received the test results and they were positive for COVID-19,” he wrote, adding and that the base has “about 100 tests sent out to the CDC awaiting results.” CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Craddock told personnel that the service member developed symptoms over the weekend and was brought by a NATO flight surgeon to the Nellis Emergency Department on Monday.
“He met criteria for testing but was not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital,” Craddock wrote, adding that the unit had isolated the member in his Henderson hotel room, where he has remained in isolation.
“We are in the process of redeploying all Red Flag personnel not stationed at Nellis,” Craddock said.
During Red Flag, more than 80 aircraft depart Nellis twice a day and remain in the air for up to five hours. Since 1975, 29 other countries have joined the U.S. in these exercises, and several other countries have participated as observers.
In the email, Craddock said that “there is still a large contingent of personnel here, including some international personnel” and it was unclear where he had contracted the virus.
In a news release, base officials said “Nellis AFB continues to work closely with our federal, state, and local health officials to ensure our detection and response efforts are coordinated.”
Earlier this week, Nellis officials announced that only active-duty, Guard and Reserve military and their dependents, as well as mission-essential civilian and contract employees were authorized to use the on-base commissary, barring retirees from getting on base.
They then rescinded the requirement, telling the Review-Journal in an email that “it was no longer deemed necessary to restrict access.”
Retirees are now allowed to use the commissary from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with personnel getting priority from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. All authorized patrons can use the commissary from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In a video message with other officers, Brig. Gen. Robert Novotny, commander of the 57th Wing, said all airmen leaves and temporary duty assignments outside Clark County will be canceled, and those out on leave and assignments are being asked to return home.
“We’re still preparing to send our folks downrange and fight our nation’s enemies,” he said. “There’s a lot of unique things that are facing us, our families, and our airmen that warrant some unique steps in order to protect those families and those airmen.”
The base local shuttle bus service is suspended until further notice, and the legal office will be closed. The Nellis chapel also will only be operating virtually.
The base gym is still open to active-duty personnel and dependents, though people are encouraged to stay out of populated areas like the gym, officials said.
Officials are asking those who go to the main entrance gate to show, and not hand over, their IDs to increase social distancing.
For more Nellis-specific COVID-19 information, please visit: https://www.nellis.af.mil/COVID-19/.
“We look forward to standing with you as we continue to fight this virus and get back to normal operations,” Novotny said.