It has been nearly a month since the first incoming freshmen, or plebes, arrived at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) to check in for their immunizations, vaccinations, blood draws, eyeglasses, and coronavirus (COVID-19) test. Following months of planning and coordination with Naval Health Clinic Annapolis Brigade Medical Unit, plebes have left their Restriction of Movement (ROM) status following a second COVID-19 test and fully engaged in Plebe Summer training.
In previous years, nearly 1,200 plebes would be processed by medical professionals by the afternoon of the first day. Contrary to conventional methods and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, the Class of 2024 was processed over four days to maximize social distancing and reduce contacts between possible asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers.
“The mission has not changed. But, the operational approach changed so that we can meet mission requirements,” said Capt. Walter Brafford, commanding officer of Naval Health Clinic Annapolis. “We are doing everything to support the USNA medical mission just as we have in years past. This year, we’ve added one more responsibility, and that’s monitoring plebes’ COVID-19 status.”
The approximately 1,200 plebes, divided into groups of 40 plus nine detailers, are referred to as a “pod.” Within the pod, life exists as usual—as usual as it can be for someone making the transition from civilian to military. Plebes move as a unit, separated by masks and kept at least six feet away from other pods.
Every morning, all plebes and detailers undergo a temperature and COVID-19 symptom check. But, if something else is ailing them, they can no longer form a line at 8:00 a.m. to see a medical professional on the first floor of Bancroft Hall for sick call. Each pod has a blocked time they can go to Dahlgren Hall, which once housed an armory, for a socially-distant sick call to address medical issues typically associated with Plebe Summer.
Predicting the number of asymptomatic cases that would arrive during induction week was possible due to discussions with other accession points and recruiting commands, conversations with Navy and Marine Corps Public Health officials, on-going meetings with leaders at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and discussions with specialty leaders at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
All midshipmen with active COVID-19 symptoms, persons under investigation for COVID-19, and anyone with symptoms that could not be ruled out by other diagnoses were placed into isolation or quarantine within Bancroft Hall for close monitoring, separated from the other midshipmen.
“We created two types of isolation spaces: a space for those who tested positive and a space for those who tested negative, but have COVID-like symptoms,” said Cmdr. Sara Stires, brigade medical officer. “Our plan is working, and Plebe Summer commenced without issues.”
To date, over 5,000 COVID-19 tests have been performed since the first week of July and another 8,500 tests are planned in the upcoming months in order for the entire population of midshipmen to safely return for the new academic year. In order to continue surveillance, Navy Medicine expects to support the Academy with 600 tests per week, roughly testing 15% of USNA students, staff, and physicians.