Air Force Recruits Who Get COVID-19 Won't Have to Start Training Over, General Says

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U.S. Air Force basic military graduation is held Apr. 9, 2020 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
U.S. Air Force basic military graduation is held Apr. 9, 2020, at the 321st Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (U.S. Air Force/Johnny Saldivar)

Air Force leaders are determining how new recruits at Basic Military Training who test positive for coronavirus will rejoin their flight ranks after they have recovered, the top general of the service's training command said Friday.

Gen. Brad Webb, head of Air Education and Training Command at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, said that some of those decisions are pending as the program has seen some recruits come down with COVID-19.

BMT has had five recruits test positive since increased distancing practices and deep-cleaning initiatives began at the base last month, Webb said. Four have already been cleared to resume training, he said, noting that they will not have to start their training back at the beginning.

"We do an assessment of where we think [affected recruits] are with respect to training and they will either rejoin the flight they were originally in, or they may be set back a class or two," Webb said. "We go through an assessment of that."

Related: Air Force Shortens Recruit Training, Shifts to New Base Amid Pandemic

The general said that there have been instances of isolating recruits and Military Training Instructors who had contact with those who presented symptoms or tested positive for the virus. But there have been "zero instructor positives, and zero outbreaks to date, thanks in large part to these proactive measures," Webb said.

Trainees or instructors who exhibit symptoms are sequestered and considered "persons under investigation," or PUI, Webb said. They are evaluated by medical health professionals and tested for the virus, and remain isolated until their tests come back.

Webb credited procedures implemented in early March including enhanced screening and intervention before processing at military entrance processing stations and adjusted recruit arrival times at Lackland.

On March 18, AETC began putting new trainees on a 14-day restriction of movement (ROM) status.

"While in ROM status, trainees are housed at the most geographically-separated training facilities at JBSA-Lackland," spokeswoman Jennifer Gonzalez said in a recent email. "New recruits in ROM status do not have exposure to trainees who have already started the BMT training pipeline."

Overall class sizes have been whittled down to 460 people due to social distancing requirements; previously, groups of 650 to 800 recruits would arrive at Lackland each week.

Earlier this month, AETC officials announced two new initiatives for mitigating potential exposure. The command reduced the BMT program by one week to a 7 1/2-week curriculum and began a "proof of concept" experiment to begin using Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, as an alternate site for basic training.

AETC sent 60 new recruits to Keesler on April 7, while 400 remain at Lackland.

"We're doing one [group] right now until we are satisfied that the proof of concept is successful," Webb said Friday. "So in other words, you won't see another 60 recruits coming [in week after week] until I make the decision that this is something that we want to do that's viable."

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

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