Air Force Academy Dismisses Cadets amid Coronavirus Spread

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Cadets walk with some belongings as they leave for winter break on Dec. 10, 2019 at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Cadets walk with some belongings as they leave for winter break on Dec. 10, 2019 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force/Trevor Cokley)

The U.S. Air Force Academy will dismiss its cadets in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19.

Academy officials announced Friday that the decision to "begin an orderly dismissal" of the majority of its classmen was made based on the threat of the disease's rapid spread, in addition to "multiple members of our base populace being monitored" for infection.

"The goal of this action is to maximize the chances of graduating our senior class on time for our Air and Space Forces while ensuring the best possible care for the entire base populace," the academy said. "We did not make this decision lightly; we consulted with our medical professionals, sister service academies and local civic leaders, among others.

"Ultimately, the deciding factor was recommendations from our public health officials and the inability to execute social distancing over 4,000 cadets here on campus," the release states.

It was not immediately clear when the cadets would return, or whether they might finish out the school year with online distance learning classes

Related: Troops in Europe Face Limbo Following Canceled Exercise, Travel Ban

It also was unclear how or whether international students assigned to the academy will be affected. Officials did not respond to Military.com's request for comment by press time. The academy can host a maximum of 60 international students at any one time, according to the school.

The news comes after the academy earlier this week said it would not allow spectators at sporting events and would close to visitors as of Friday.

The Air Force as a whole continues to cancel stateside events in an effort to protect troops from exposure to COVID-19.

The service said Friday it is suspending "all outreach activities and support to community events through May 15."

"This includes, but is not limited to, on-base and civilian sponsored air shows, band performances and community engagements and meetings. This decision does not preclude our leaders from meeting or coordinating with local and community officials," the Air Force said in a release.

On Thursday, the service said that an active-duty airman assigned to Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, had a presumptive positive test for the virus and had begun treatment. The Centers for Disease Control defines a presumptive positive test as "individuals with at least one respiratory specimen that tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19."

Officials said the airman had recently traveled to Seattle.

A contractor at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, base also tested positive for the virus.

Air University's Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, has suspended guests from attending awards ceremonies and the graduation parade, officials said, but individual commissioning ceremonies will continue.

Additionally, multiple air shows have been canceled or postponed.

Air shows scheduled for March 28 -- one at March Air Reserve Base, California, another at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida -- have been postponed.

Air Force Times reported that the Fiesta of Flight Air and Space Expo at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas scheduled for Saturday has been canceled. The air show was set to feature the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team.

The first show for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter demonstration team, which had been set to begin Friday at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, was also canceled, Air Force Times said.

Earlier this week, the service suspended family-attended graduation events at Basic Military Training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, as well as liberty leave off and on base for new graduates.

Lastly, the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine Epidemiology Laboratory has begun receiving potential COVID-19 samples from military treatment facilities (MTFs) around the world, officials said.

The facilities "collect samples per CDC guidelines and send them to the Epi Reference Lab or local public health lab to conduct the CDC-approved test," officials said in Friday's release. "Any presumptive positive test is then confirmed by the CDC per guidelines," the service said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Read more: More COVID-19 coverage

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