At military academies, COVID-19 is the enemy to be defeated

Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_47832 A social distancing sign is seen on the floor as a midshipman walks to class at Luce Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_42192 Social distancing rules are seen on a whiteboard near the entrance to the Nimitz Library at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_42150 A midshipman sits on a bench with social distancing signage at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_62166 Sections of a table are seen blocked off with tape as assistant professor Jennifer Guerard speaks into laptops while teaching a foundations of chemistry remote class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_50770 Sections of a table are seen blocked off with tape as assistant professor Jennifer Guerard speaks into laptops while teaching a foundations of chemistry remote class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_70345 A midshipman reaches for sanitizing wipes while arriving to a leadership class taught by professor Celeste Luning, left, at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_27948 Midshipmen walk in a line as they make their way to the five-meter platform to dive onto a pool at the end of a swim class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_68530 Midshipmen talk at the end of a swim class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_60036 Assistant professor Julia Pribyl Ham looks at her computer as a video is shown while she teaches a foundations of chemistry remote class in her office at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_81805 Midshipmen are seen on computer screens as assistant professor Julia Pribyl Ham teaches a foundations of chemistry remote class in her office at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
A midshipwoman uses a sanitizing wip to clean her desk before the start of a leadership class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_08448 A midshipman wears a face mask to protect against COVID-19 while walking with laundry at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person. Md.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_41421 A midshipman wears a face mask to protect against COVID-19 while walking near a tent set up as a social distant mess hall on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_41055 Professor Kurtis J. Swope uses tongs to pull study packets out of a folder to display for students prior to an environmental economics class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_97300 Professor Kurtis J. Swope checks in on students signing in remotely prior to an environmental economics class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_67846 In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force Academy, academy cadets start the school year with a class held outdoors on Aug. 12, 2020 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_70732 In this image provided by the U.S. Air force Academy, academy cadets start the school year with a mix of reduced class sizes and remote learning on Aug. 12, 2020, at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_77818 In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force Academy, academy cadets start the school year with a mix of reduced class sizes and remote learning on Aug. 12, 2020, at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_01178 In this image provided by the U.S. Air force Academy, academy cadets have started the school year with a mix of reduced class sizes and remote learning on Aug. 12, 2020, at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Virus_Outbreak_Military_Academies_60291 A midshipman uses a sanitizing wipe to clean her desk before the start of a leadership class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — As eight Navy midshipmen file into their economics class, instructor Kurtis Swope points to the antibacterial wipes on the desk. “Did you grab wipes?” he asks, then tells each one to take two, wipe down the desk when they arrive and again when they leave. “That should be your process.”

As chairman of U.S. Naval Academy’s economics department, Swope broke his class into two sections, so every student could attend in person. Down the hall another instructor, flanked by chemistry equipment, stands in front of two computers teaching in an empty classroom. And another instructor sits in her office, talking to a grid of camo-clad students on her laptop.

Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.

This is largely due to advantages the military schools have. They’re small, each with about 4,500 students who know that joining the military means they’re subject to more control and expected to follow orders. Their military leaders, meanwhile, are treating the virus like an enemy that must be detected, deterred and defeated. They view the students as the next generation of commanders who must learn to lead troops through any crisis, including this one.

“If you look at COVID as a threat, it helps you frame it in a way that I think you can then conduct action against it,” said Brig. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, West Point’s commandant. The cadets, he said, are getting lessons in “leading through uncertainty and adversity. I’ve had to do that throughout my career in the Army, particularly in combat, and they’re getting a little dose of it.”

The virus outbreak sent most academy students home to finish spring semester online. Air Force seniors stayed and graduated early.

Now students have returned, and 1% to 2% tested COVID-19 positive on arrival and went into isolation. Since then, officials say they’ve seen few new cases. The Navy and Air Force will randomly test 15% of students weekly; West Point will test 15% to 20% monthly.

Because they need dozens of on-campus rooms to potentially isolate COVID students or quarantine those who come in contact with infected persons, the Navy and Air Force academies are renting space off-site for healthy students. The Navy, in Annapolis, Maryland, is putting 375 students at St. John’s College and the Air Force, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, will put 400 in three local hotels.

“We know that with this population that about 90% of this age group is asymptomatic,” said Brig. Gen. Linell A. Letendre, Air Force Academy dean. “That’s what’s really scary about this disease. How do we find those individuals who have it when they don’t even know they have it.”

To limit any spread, the academies made physical and academic changes. At the Navy’s Michelson Hall, blue tape marks seats that must remain empty, red tape forms large arrows on the floor showing students which way to go, and stairways are designated up or down. Signs remind students about social distancing. Library books borrowed online sit in paper bags for pick-up.

The Navy has the smallest campus, but two large tents were wedged next to the dorm for dining. The Air Force and Army, however, have been able to create large outdoor classrooms and meeting areas.

“I wanted outdoor classrooms for a long time and we’re finally getting them,” said Letendre. “I never waste a good crisis.”

At West Point, instructors tested their classroom air quality. They added time between classes for cleaning. And faculty walk the halls to ensure students follow health procedures.

The Army and Navy academies will limit students’ movements off campus. That may be difficult, since the tourist-filled restaurants and bars of Annapolis’ waterfront are nearby. Air Force leaders said they’ll let students go to stores or take-out restaurants initially, but will clamp down if there are COVID cases.

“I don’t know that anyone else can demand the same things we do with respect to self-discipline. That’s just part of being in an academy,” said Col. Matthew Dabkowski, director of West Point’s systems engineering program. “There’s a level of control with respect to the staff and faculty and the cadets that, I think, is helpful.”

Academy officials said roughly 50% of their classes will be in-person, the rest will be online or a mix. Some students will attend in person more often if they have lab work.

Students attending academies also need hands-on military experience. The virus made some of that impossible this year, and some students missed critical time in military units or on ships.

“You can do academic course work online. We can teach online,” said Andrew Phillips, Naval Academy provost. “But the professional experiences they missed this summer are very hard to make up.”

Phillips said most juniors who must pick their service specialty now didn’t get out to active-duty units but will, he hopes, choose wisely. Navy students heading to the Marine Corps, however, got a shortened summer experience because Marine leaders felt strongly about seeing them in person.

“You want an individual who is a good fit for the Marine Corps, whose attitude is right,” Phillips said. “And you really only can judge that face to face.”

Technology is also a challenge, with thousands online for classes. Many instructors want students to have their cameras on, which requires more bandwidth.

Swope, for example, has one computer set up showing his online students; his iPhone camera faces the class, so they are visible online, and his iPad displays his lessons.

Instructors have to be ready to provide online classes to students in isolation, and also be prepared to teach from home if they’re quarantined. Celeste Luning started her junior leadership class at the Naval Academy seeking volunteers to set up the computers if she’s not there.

“Have you had in-person classes yet?” Luning asks. Amid the chorus of “no,” she turns to her computer to address those online: “Can you see your classmates?”

One voice from the computer sums it up. “It’s pretty weird,” he said.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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