The Marine Corps is halting new shipments of recruits to its fabled East Coast boot camp base after more than 20 people there tested positive for the highly contagious virus that has altered life around the globe.
Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina will not accept new trainees until at least mid-April, Capt. Bryan McDonnell, a spokesman there, said.
There are more than 20 positive cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, at the training depot. That includes cases among recruits and drill instructors, McDonnell said. He declined to provide the total number, saying it could change rapidly as more test results become available.
"Just like everywhere, we're seeing an increase in cases because this is a pandemic," McDonnell said. "We're still combating it."
The decision to halt incoming shipments of recruits follows an exclusive story from Military.com in which recruiters warned that continuing to send young men and women to boot camp was risking lives.
"Decision-makers are absolutely in denial if they believe high rates of infection and hospitalization will not happen on the depot under close proximity and enclosed spaces," one Marine said.
Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said the health of Marines, recruits and their families during the global pandemic remains the service's highest priority.
"With that in mind, we've paused this week's shipping of new recruits to Parris Island and will revise our overall shipping plan to ensure we are able to meet the nation's needs while protecting its next generation of Marines."
The Marine Corps will continue shipping recruits to its West Coast boot camp base in San Diego, which hasn't seen as high a number of COVID-19 cases as Parris Island, an official with knowledge of the situation said.
McDonnell said the last shipment of recruits arrived at Parris Island about two weeks ago. Training for those already at the recruit depot will continue as scheduled, but will be done with several new social-distancing measures in place, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That includes spreading recruits out in chow halls where they eat and in squad bays where they sleep. The base is also recording Sunday worship sermons, so trainees aren't gathering in the base chapel.
When Parris Island resumes accepting new recruits, McDonnel said they will have a 14-day staging period in which they'll be monitored by medical personnel and staff before they begin training. Task & Purpose was first to report the change.
Brig. Gen. James Glynn, Parris Island's commander, and Sgt. Maj. William Carter, the top-enlisted leader there, said in a letter to base staff that they will expand facilities on base for screening new recruits or those facing isolation and quarantine.
"This aggressive posture is necessary to protect all of us," they wrote. "... This is a concern to us, just as it is to you, and it is being constantly addressed at every level to minimize the threat and mitigate this impact."