At least 16 graduating cadets from West Point Military Academy have tested positive for the new coronavirus, COVID-19, after returning to campus for graduation ceremonies, USA Today reported.
The infected cadets are not showing symptoms and are receiving treatment, West Point superintendent Army Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams told the outlet.
West Point had originally closed the campus and postponed its graduation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but President Donald Trump took the school by surprise at the end of April when he announced that he would be speaking at the mid-June graduation ceremony.
West Point then scrambled to make plans to safely bring back the 1,106 graduating cadets to campus — located just north of New York City — while avoiding a COVID-19 outbreak. The school opted to allow the cadets to return in waves, and has been immediately testing them for COVID-19 upon arrival. While living on campus, the must wear masks, socially distance and undergo temperature checks each day.
At the June 13 ceremony, only cadets will be allowed to attend — no family or friends.
“The Army and West Point have done meticulous planning to ensure the health and safety of the returning cadets of the U.S. Military Academy’s class of 2020,” Colonel Sunset Belinsky, a U.S. Army spokesperson, told The New York Times. “There is mandatory screening for all, and we’ve had a small number — about 1.5 percent — test positive. This was anticipated.”
Along with the 16 infected cadets, 71 of the more than 5,000 faculty and staff, some of whom are civilians, tested positive for COVID-19 since mid-March, USA Today said, and all but four have since recovered.
Trump’s announcement that the cadets had to return for graduation drew criticism, and Senator Tammy Duckworth, a former Army lieutenant colonel, called it a publicity stunt.
“Trump’s reckless decision to gather 1,000 Cadets at West Point for a speech puts our future military leaders at increased risk — all to stroke his own ego,” she said in April. “Our troops need stable, consistent leadership during volatile times like these, not a commander-in-chief who values his own photo ops and TV ratings over their health and safety.”
Elsewhere, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland decided to cancel its in-person graduation and hold a virtual ceremony, similar to most U.S. universities. The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, however, decided to send home underclassmen in mid-March and keep the seniors on campus until their April graduation, where Vice President Mike Pence spoke to the graduates, who marched eight feet apart and sat six feet apart.
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