Fifteen West Point cadets have tested positive for coronavirus as more than 1,100 return to campus ahead of Donald Trump’s mid-June commencement speech, which the president vowed would be ‘nice and tight’ and not socially distanced.
The cadets tested positive for the virus when the class of 1,106 were summoned back to the US Military Academy last week, the US Army confirmed.
It said the 15 were diagnosed when all cadets were tested as soon as they arrived on campus and were immediately isolated so the virus did not spread to any other cadets.
None of the cadets had symptoms for the virus, they added.
The West Point graduation ceremony in 2019 (pictured). Fifteen West Point cadets have tested positive for coronavirus as more than 1,100 return to campus ahead of Donald Trump’s mid-June commencement speech
The US Military Academy has taken a number of measures to bring the cadets back safely for their graduation, since Trump announced it would be business as usual for the event despite the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rage on across America.
‘The Army and West Point have done meticulous planning to ensure the health and safety of the returning cadets of the US Military Academy’s class of 2020,’ the US Army said in a statement.
‘There is mandatory screening for all, and we’ve had a small number – about 1.5 percent – test positive. This was anticipated. None were symptomatic, and no cadet has contracted through person-to-person contact while under the Army’s care. Those who test positive are isolated, and receive appropriate care and attention, while we continue an orderly reintegration of our cadets.’
Back in April, Trump shocked everyone when he announced he would be speaking at the event as planned.
According to the New York Times, the news even came as a surprise to West Point officials.
The cadets for the military academy had all been sent home in early March as the coronavirus outbreak spread across the US and they had not returned to campus since.
Officials had been looking at various options for the graduation including delaying the presidential commencement speech.
But it seems Trump did not want to pass up the opportunity of speaking at the only service academy where he has not yet taken to the stage.
Donald Trump speaking at the US Naval Academy graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2018 (pictured). Trump announced in April he would be speaking at the West point ceremony in June as planned despite the pandemic
Before any decision was reached by West Point officials, Trump announced in a press conference on April 17 that he would be going ahead with the event at the campus based in New York – which was the virus epicenter of the world at the time.
His announcement came just one day before Vice President Mike Pence gave a commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs.
At this commencement, the underclassmen were sent home and cadets marched six feet apart and sat eight feet apart.
But the president brushed off the possibility of a socially distanced ceremony at West Point saying he wanted the ‘look’ of it to be ‘nice and tight’.
Trump came under fire following his announcement, with Senator Tammy Duckworth branding it ‘reckless’ and an excuse for ‘photo ops’.
‘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 back 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.’
Trump’s announcement that the West Point event would go ahead came just one day before Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at the Air Force Academy graduation in Colorado where cadets marched six feet apart and sat eight feet apart (pictured)
The confirmed cases among the cadets – and Trump’s vow to disregard social distancing at the event – have sparked fresh safety fears around going ahead with the ceremony while in the middle of a health crisis.
Other academies have taken a more cautious approach given the risk of sparking fresh outbreaks of the virus among the nation’s servicemen and women.
The Naval Academy decided against bringing back its nearly 1,000 graduating midshipmen to its base in Annapolis, Maryland, for its commencement this year.
According to information on the US Army website, West Point is taking several precautions ahead of its ceremony.
Buses started transporting the US Military Academy’s Class of 2020 back to the campus last Tuesday where they got off and stood six feet apart and wore masks while waiting for a COVID-19 test and then their test results.
The ceremony itself will be ‘modified’ although the details of the modifications are unclear.
More than 106,000 people have died of coronavirus in the U.S. with more than 1.8 million infections.