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Summer PCS plans altered by COVID-19

Image of Man wearing mask loading boxes into a car. Click to open a larger version of the image. The United States Transportation Command released guidance for moving companies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Movers have been directed to wear face coverings like the above photo, minimize the number of personnel required to move families, and equip themselves to clean surfaces they frequently touch during a move. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal)

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Service members move from location to location as part of the military lifestyle. Families have to juggle multiple tasks during a permanent change in station, or PCS, from the physical task of moving belongings to the paperwork involved with switching medical providers. The national emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic introduced families to new PCS complications. Beneficiaries throughout the Military Health System are encouraged to take measures to protect their wellness while moving.

Molly Grasso had moved multiple times with her military husband, currently stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. However, the stop movement order issued for the military in March meant she and her children would make a recent move to Portsmouth, Virginia, without his help.

“It’s been a lot more moving parts,” Grasso said. “With selling our home, buying a new one, and moving all of the kids.”

With the pandemic creating a new obstacle in an already difficult situation, Grasso and her family made adjustments to their PCS routine. The family packed most of their belongings themselves to reduce the amount of time strangers are in the home. The family also hired a moving company that required their staff be tested for the novel coronavirus and report any symptoms that may arise. Face masks were also mandatory for all their moving staff.

These practices line up with guidance released by the United States Transportation Command to help families move during the pandemic. Moving companies attached to the United States Transportation Command have been directed to wear face coverings, minimize the number of personnel required to move families, and equip themselves to clean surfaces they frequently touch during a move.

The guidance also encourages family members who aren’t required to be present during a move to vacate the home during the packing or delivery process. Families that cannot vacate should prepare a dedicated room for family members to remain while movers are packing and loading.

Grasso said that her “quaran-team” made this part easy, as her mother-in-law lived close by and was quarantining with the family. Grasso was able to leave her children at her mother-in-law’s house while the movers were working to prevent possible exposure.

“We really had to make some tough decisions,” Grasso said, “We talked about our risks and decided to let my mother-in-law into the circle because I don't know how we would have done it without her.”

Army Col. Tracy Michael, commander of the Fort Meade Medical Activity at Fort Meade, Maryland, used similar guidance during his recent move within the state of Virginia. Michael prepackaged his belongings to minimize the amount of time movers would be in the home. Michael also emphasized sanitizing surfaces and hands during the move to cleanse frequently touched surfaces.

“We made sure we had wipes and hand-washing materials so the folks that were in and out had the ability to clean their hands as they touch surfaces,” Michael said. “We also made sure that there were cleaning products in the house both for personal hygiene and wiping down areas like banisters and railings that were touched a lot.”

Social distancing was one of Michael’s priorities for his own move, and he suggests the same for other families moving either within their state or crossing state lines.

“People are going to be traveling through multiple areas or states if they're driving, or they’ll come in contact with people from different locations if they’re flying,” Michael said. “The prevalence of COVID-19 is different from location to location, so I think the one thing that we can all do is to maintain social distancing. Additionally, continue to wear our masks, continue to wash our hands, and continue to wipe down surfaces. Those are some of the best steps we can take to protect ourselves and our families.”

Grasso agreed with the need for a plan ahead of time. Aspects like finding a new medical provider or buying a house are being handled virtually for a lot of families like Michael’s and Grasso’s, but a solid plan helps anticipate any complications that may come up during the move.

“Think through all of the moving parts that you can and try to make a good plan on how to keep yourself and your family safe,” Grasso said. “I really relied on the military spouse network to ask for recommendations for providers, but we made sure we were up-to-date on all of our kids shot records and everything before we left, which would give us a little bit of time to get settled.”

Families are encouraged to make the best decisions for their safety during a PCS. Local chain of command and local transportation offices are willing to work with families to reschedule pack-outs or deliveries if they experience discomfort during their move. For more guidance on how to take proper safety precautions during a PCS move, visit Move.mil.

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