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General urges people to get vaccinated to protect soldiers

June 26, 2021 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Fort Benning’s commanding general is urging more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying it’s crucial to protecting the soldiers on the sprawling Georgia army post.

The Ledger-Enquirer reports that Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe told the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce on Friday that vaccine numbers could determine how much freedom soldiers have to visit businesses off the base.

“We encourage everyone who is going to interact with a soldier to be vaccinated,” Donahoe said, adding that trainees living in large open barracks are in a “hot house for any kind of contagious disease.”

Donahoe took command at Benning a year ago. He tightened restrictions for soldiers and civilian workers. Earlier this month he loosened rules to say fully vaccinated people can go maskless with the exception of medical facilities and certain gyms. Graduation ceremonies are open, but visitors must show proof they’re fully vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 in the last 72 hours.

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“I encourage every one of you to do the research. Don’t follow the tinfoil-hat club that’s somewhere online,” Donahoe said, calling the vaccines “incredibly safe.”

Donahoe said Columbus’ vaccination rates are too low. Only 29% of the city-county’s residents are fully vaccinated, while that number is 33% statewide.

“We need to get our population to about 70% vaccinated to give us the immunity we need as a community,” he said. “There’s an economic impact to that because that’s one of the indicators we’re are looking at to allow our soldiers to go downtown during their cycle breaks from our training.”

Chattahoochee County, where most Fort Benning residents and trainees live, continues to report more cases than Columbus, because of testing of newly arrived soldiers.

Chattahoochee County reported 124 COVID-19 cases over the two weeks that ended June 24, while Muscogee County reported 66.

Donahoe said 2% to 4% of newly arrived soldiers continue to test positive for the virus, down from close to 20% during the worst days of the pandemic.