Kristin Murphy, KSL, File

Hill AFB selected for random COVID-19 testing program

By Graham Dudley, | Posted - Oct. 15, 2020 at 1:34 p.m.

OGDEN — Northern Utah's Hill Air Force Base is one of four bases nationwide selected to participate in a random coronavirus surveillance testing program beginning this month, the Air Force announced.

Air Force Materiel Command in a news release said the base will join California's Edwards AFB, Florida's Eglin AFB, and Massachusetts' Hanscom AFB in the phased testing program designed to watch for COVID-19 in asymptomatic populations.

Over the first two months of testing, 100 total active-duty personnel will be tested at each base. The testing will be divided into four periods of 14 days each; the first phase will include a sampling of base health care workers, followed by base dorm residents, general wing personnel, and finally by the general installation workforce.

Selected participants will be notified by email and participation is voluntary, the release says.

The tests, themselves, will sample participants' saliva using a cotton swab, and the samples will be put together in groups of four to six for an aggregated test designed to look for the presence of COVID-19 in a population rather than an individual. If the virus is found in a group test, individuals will be notified to follow up with further testing.

"The testing effort is part of a larger Department of the Air Force sentinel surveillance strategy to randomly test Air and Space Force military and civilian personnel to identify and contain pockets of the coronavirus," the release says. "The goal is to test people without symptoms for COVID-19 to determine if additional public health actions are needed in work areas. Ultimately, the Air Force wants to ensure Airmen and the Air Force community remain healthy and able to fly, fight and win in air, space, and cyberspace."

The Air Force does not release coronavirus infection data for specific bases but does track the virus within the branch overall. According to numbers released Oct. 12, the Air Force has seen 12,728 confirmed cases of COVID-19 between airmen, civilians, dependents and contractors. No airmen have died because of the virus, but 11 civilians, two dependents and five contractors have died, the Air Force said.

The release says the Air Force "will evaluate and possibly begin an expansion of the surveillance testing" after the two-month trial period concludes at the four test bases.

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