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Naval Academy reports at least 14 coronavirus midshipmen, staff cases in a month

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2011. (U.S. Army/Released)

At least 14 members of the Naval Academy community have tested positive for the coronavirus causing COVID-19 in the last four weeks, according to percentages provided by the academy.

Each week, the Naval Academy randomly tests 700 midshipmen, faculty and staff, Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck told the Board of Visitors during a meeting Monday morning.

The testing protocol, which includes sending the tests to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, has only been in place for the past four weeks, Buck said. But so far, the numbers seem to be good. The 700 tests do not include those who might be tested after being symptomatic.

“So knock on wood,” Buck said. “The protocols that we were advised to take are working, and we continue to monitor, literally, multiple times a day, seven days a week.”

It is unclear exactly how many midshipmen have tested positive since detailers and plebes came back for Plebe Summer as the academy does not disclose the number due to operational security. The academy previously told The Capital fewer than 2% of midshipmen back at the academy have tested positive.

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At least 15 members of the Naval Academy’s athletic community have tested positive, although only three people — a starter, a backup player and a coach — have tested positive since athletes started competing, Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk Jr. said.

The number of athletics staff that test positive is not included in the academy’s overall percentages as they are tested over a different period of time.

Athletes are tested twice a week, with football players undergoing a third test, a saliva test meant to figure out if there is potential for superspreader events.

Buck and Commandant of the Midshipmen Capt. Thomas R. Buchanan spent most of the Board of Visitors meeting detailing the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the academy. There were changes to Plebe Summer. The brigade of midshipmen is still in the process of reforming, instead of all arriving on one weekend. About 95%-96% of midshipmen are back in Annapolis, Buck said.

Midshipmen are also currently being housed in St. John’s College dormitories. About 250 of the 375 midshipmen who will reside there have moved in, Buck said in the meeting.

COVID-19 restrictions also extended to the liberty given to midshipmen, with this past weekend being the first time this academic year midshipmen were allowed into town. Unlike typical town liberty, mids were kept to a 20-mile radius instead of a 35-mile one.

Keeping the Yard closed to visitors, as it still is, and restricting liberty was meant to keep COVID-19 from spreading, Buck said. After being questioned by a board member, Buck did acknowledge that there is still a risk of COVID-19 spread due to the faculty and staff coming and going even as midshipmen were restricted.

“Me and my wife are threat vectors because we’ve been leaving the Yard and coming back because we live on the Yard,” Buck said.

The pandemic has also affected the academy’s ability to provide classes. With midshipmen at home for the summer, the academy offered three summer sessions, with 3,000 midshipmen enrolled, said Provost Andrew Phillips.

There were two four-week sessions where mids could take one course and one eight-week block where they could take two courses, Phillips said.

The summer courses helped reduce the number of students in class for the fall semester, the provost said. In some cases, midshipmen have a lighter load than usual this semester.

Classes started digitally with some now moving to a hybrid model where some mids attend in person and others participate remotely. Those who are not in class could be some of the midshipmen who have not yet returned or ones that are currently finishing a restriction of movement period in their Bancroft rooms, Phillips said.

The cruise commissioning requirement that sophomores take was canceled over the summer. It is a graduation requirement, which means the academy is now trying to find ways to make sure those who still need to meet the requirement in addition to the entirety of the class of 2023 can do so, Buchanan said.

The pandemic has also hit the academy financially, Buck said. While canceled cruises meant no travel costs, the Naval Academy needed to equip its faculty with technology for remote classes, as well as pay for summer school faculty, safer food practices, personal protective equipment and the St. John’s College dorms.

The Navy provided the academy an additional $1.5 million to help cover increased operational cost, Buck said. The academy also received $4.9 million from the CARES Act in order to help pay labor costs.

The Board of Visitors will next meet in December.

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