New Army recruits with low-grade fevers could be prevented from starting Basic Combat Training (BCT) on time as part of a sweeping effort involving all U.S. military branches to prevent the novel coronavirus from potentially spreading throughout the force.
The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have all confirmed to Military.com that all recruits are now being screened for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, before starting initial-entry training.
Over the past week, U.S. military leaders have begun to intensify the Pentagon's response to the COVID-19 outbreak after a soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in South Korea tested positive for the potentially deadly virus. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The Army has directed that all recruits be screened at recruiting stations just before shipping to BCT and then undergo a second round of screening upon arrival, according to Lisa Ferguson, spokeswoman for Army Recruiting Command.
"The health and safety of all our people -- soldiers, family members, civilians and future soldiers -- is a top priority," she said. "As a precautionary measure, Army Recruiting is directing all future soldiers who are within three days of shipping to basic training to be pre-screened. Every recruiting station will pre-screen future soldiers."
Recruiters will take the recruit's temperature with "no-touch" thermometers and ask the following three questions:
- Have you or anyone living with you traveled to or through China, Korea, Japan, Iran or Italy?
- Have you had contact with anyone confirmed to have COVID-19?
- Do you have any of the following symptoms: fever greater than 99.5 degrees, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, muscle aches, fatigue or diarrhea?
"If a future soldier answers yes to any of these questions or has a ... temperature greater than 99.5, [that] could result in a future soldier being delayed in shipping to basic training," Ferguson said.
The recruit would be "directed to contact a medical provider to be tested for illness, and then must be cleared by [military entrance processing stations or MEPS] before shipping," she added.
"This could result in a delay in shipping, but that length of time will depend on how long it takes each individual to be free of any symptoms and ensure she/he does not have coronavirus disease. Once they are cleared, they will receive a new ship date," Ferguson said.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (CIMT) began screening all trainees for COVID-19 at reception stations at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, according to Megan Reed, CIMT spokeswoman.
Trainees will be asked the three questions, then screened for fever, cough, sore throat and other symptoms.
"If a trainee presents positive during the initial screening process, the trainee is then given further evaluation by medical professionals, who will make a determination for appropriate care," Reed said.
The Air Force, like the Army, will screen all recruits on two occasions before they enter basic training.
"All members entering basic military training are required to process military entrance processing stations (MEPS) on the day of or the day before departing for basic military training," according to a statement from Air Force Air Education and Training Command. "Members at MEPS have virus protocol procedures to observe and take temperatures of all individuals entering MEPS facilities.
"Air Force recruiters also complete a medical pre-screen on all applicants that covers all medical concerns, to include COVID-19," it continued.
The Navy and Marine Corps are screening all recruits for COVID-19 at the start of basic training.
"All recruits are medically evaluated on arrival to Recruit Training Command (RTC), as well as throughout their training; this includes monitoring for COVID-19," said Lt. Cmdr. Frederick Martin, spokesman for Naval Service Training Command.
Lt. Sam Boyle, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, added that the Navy began including a novel coronavirus screening to initial processing of recruits in January. Boyle said recruits are checked for symptoms including "fever or lower respiratory illness" and asked about their overseas travel history and whether they've had contact with anyone who might have been infected.
"Any recruit identified as having symptoms or having traveled overseas to certain regions in the last 14 days would be addressed by medical personnel for follow-on assessment and treatment," Boyle said. "As of March 3, 2020, [recruit training command] has not had any recruits that require further action."
Capt. Christopher Harrison, spokesman for Headquarters Marine Corps, said the service has "implemented several measures to preserve the wellness of our Marines and the readiness of the force."
"Preliminary screenings have been implemented as a precautionary measure for incoming recruits at our Marine Corps Recruit Depots," Harrison said. "Additionally, the Marine Corps has issued force-wide disease containment guidance in accordance with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines that includes measures toward increasing medical surveillance and monitoring for flu-like symptoms."
In a Feb. 20 Marine administrative message, the Corps issued guidance to commanders on how to start taking precautions to prevent the spread of "2019 Novel Coronavirus, or NCoV."
"The current threat of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus has raised concern that this virus could result in a pandemic disease," the message states. "In such a scenario, NCoV could spread, infecting U.S. personnel, and threaten the operational readiness of the U.S. Marine Corps."
The message directs commanders to "identify all Marines returning from mainland China after 2 February 2020 and place service members under a 14-day restriction of movement (ROM)."
The outbreak of the virus is "rapidly evolving, but currently poses a LOW RISK" to Marines based in the United States, the message states.
"Presently, the U.S. Marine Corps is planning, conducting routine surveillance, and commencing engagement activities, to assure and solidify collaborative relationships, and inform all personnel, to be prepared for disease containment operations and support," according to the message.
The Coast Guard, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, has begun taking screening precautions in line with the other services at its only boot camp in Cape May, New Jersey. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tim Tamargo told Military.com that prospective recruits with fever symptoms are not being shipped to training. Additional screening for virus symptoms and exposure is being conducted according to CDC guidelines, he said.
"Right now, there have been no cases in Cape May or at the training center," he said. "If there [was a case], we would work with healthcare providers to treat anything immediately."
-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.