Recruits getting off the bus today at the Army’s four basic training posts started their days with a new screening process designed to catch possible coronavirus cases they officially enter training.
The new measures went into effect Tuesday, Army Training and Doctrine Command boss Gen. Paul Funk told reporters, after cadre at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; spent the weekend rehearsing the protocol for screening and quarantining potentially ill trainees. At this time of year, that’s about 1,000 recruits a week, 300 of those just at Jackson.
“Upon arriving at the battalion reception station, they’re asked, 'Has anyone living with you traveled through China, Korea, Japan, Iran or Italy? Have you had contact with a confirmed COVID-positive individual?” Col. Richard McNorton, Funk’s spokesman, said, reciting the questions recruits will be asked once they arrive on post.
The next questions are whether they’ve been experiencing coughing, sore throat, diarrhea, shortness of breath, muscle aches or fatigue. The next step is to take their temperatures.
If they answer “no” to all of the questions and their temperatures are under 99.5 degrees or below, they’re good to go. If they answer yes to any of those questions, or their temperature is above 99.5, they will be separated at the reception battalion and taken to medical for further screening.
To prepare, staff at those posts role-played as cadre and recruits, carrying out the initial screening and isolating those who reported certain symptoms or who had more than a mildly elevated body temperature.
“We actually rehearsed people coming off the bus. We rehearsed people having the symptoms, where do they go?" Funk said. "And then we do an after action review and say ‘Eh, you didn’t catch this one, but you caught this one.’ "
Post hospitals are prepared to test for and treat any confirmed cases, Funk said.
Though no trainees have shown up to basic training with coronavirus, he said there have been two cases of suspicious symptoms in recent weeks ― and both turned out to be Influenza B.
This new procedure is a starting point, Funk said, in anticipation that as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention learns more about the virus and how to contain and treat COVID-19, the screening procedures will evolve.
“These’ll change, I’m sure they’ll change," he said. "We’re going to learn from this.”
So far, one service member has been diagnosed with COVID-19, at Camp Carroll in South Korea. His wife has also tested positive, and the two are in isolation with their infant at nearby Camp Humphreys.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.