Air Force Academy prepares to welcome entire cadet wing to campus


click to enlarge A sign of the times at the Air Force Academy. Arriving members of the Class of 2024 sanitize during in-processing in June. - CHRISTIAN MURDOCK

  • Christian Murdock
  • A sign of the times at the Air Force Academy. Arriving members of the Class of 2024 sanitize during in-processing in June.

The Air Force Academy will be one of the first universities in the United States to welcome its student body to campus in late July.

The Academy has been dealing with dozens of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, since the arrival of the class of 2024 on June 25.

The officer training school then posted a request for proposals for 220 hotel rooms to house healthy cadets so that those who are infected could adequately social distance.

Now, the Academy announced in a July 23 news release it will welcome cadets in the next week, noting, “The safety of cadets, staff and the entire USAFA community, as well as the Colorado Springs community, remains our number one priority.”

Here’s how the school hopes to keep people safe:
• Test cadets for COVID multiple times in their first two weeks on campus on their first day, day seven, day 10 and day 14.

• Provide random cadet testing thereafter to identify any potential asymptomatic cases in the earliest stages possible.

• Maintain quarantine and isolation space for cadets with positive tests, symptoms or close contact with positive cases.

• Create space for social distancing when planning military training, classes, cadet living arrangements and other activities.

From the release:

Classes at USAFA will start around mid-August and will combine in-person and online learning. In-person classes may use creative solutions possibly involving outdoor classes, using larger classrooms for smaller classes, and accomplishing labs and other hands-on coursework in small groups to accommodate the proper social distancing space, while carrying out the Academy mission of training future Air Force and Space Force leaders.

The mechanics of how to bring the entire student body back to USAFA was a daunting challenge, made possible with inputs from the Pandemic Math Team and Public Health recommendations, including USAFA, Colorado Department of Public Health, local public health officials, Air Force and Department of Defense and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

The Pandemic Math Team (PMT) is a cross-functional collection of experts in statistics, mathematical modeling, biology, virology, and public health. The Department of Faculty team developed and modeled a COVID-19 testing program to mitigate the potential of a “run-away” outbreak at the Academy and give leadership policy tools and trigger points to adapt to changing conditions in real time.

Their predictive analytics, along with advisement of public health professionals, allowed USAFA to be free of community spread of COVID-19, even as cadets were brought in from across the nation. Positive cases were well within the predicted 1-2% expected and USAFA’s ability to properly house and care for them.

COVID-19 positive numbers are right around where the PMT calculated they would be and, because of the work they did, USAFA had adequate Quarantine and Isolation space available for the inevitable positive tests and contact cases associated with bringing the Cadet Wing back to USAFA, including the Class of 2024. The team has briefed their work to Headquarters Air Force and Office of the Secretary of Defense, as well as, continuing to share data with other service academies and universities in Colorado.

In order to maintain adequate Quarantine and Isolation space in the USAFA dormitories, USAFA officials knew alternative housing for a select group of healthy cadets was going to be necessary going forward as approximately 4,000 cadets return to the Academy from every Congressional district in the U.S.

The Air Force Academy will house approximately 400 cadets in hotels off base for the fall semester, and possibly longer as the pandemic situation evolves. The Academy is pleased to partner with the Colorado Springs business community in finding a solution to housing cadets to maintain a safe and healthy training and academic environment.

The select group of healthy cadets living off-base will be subject the same stringent military training and academic standards, and safety protocols as the cadets remaining on base. Academy supervision will be at the hotels as well. Transportation and food options are still being considered.

The ongoing global pandemic is an evolving situation and, based on the environment, details could change rapidly.