WASHINGTON – The Army has determined 16 West Point cadets have tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to the campus for a commencement address by President Trump scheduled for June 13, according to sources on Capitol Hill.
The affected cadets, a fraction of the 850 who have returned to the campus since spring break in March, are receiving treatment but are not showing symptoms of the disease, Army Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, the West Point superintendent, said in an interview.
Williams, who declined to specify the number of cadets affected, said screening and safety procedures will allow the ceremony to be held safely.
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Sources on Capitol Hill, with access to information but not authorized to speak publicly, said that of the 16 affected cadets, 14 had tested positive for the antibody that indicates they had contracted the virus, recovered and had developed anti-bodies. In addition, 71 of the more than 5,000 faculty, staff and civilians at West Point have tested positive for COVID-19 since March. All but four civilians have recovered, and they are living off the post.
The COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled graduation plans for the nation's elite military schools. The Naval Academy held a virtual ceremony, and the Air Force Academy sequestered its senior class on campus, holding graduation with cadets spaced at safe distance from one another.
Critics have called Trump's decision to attend West Point graduation a political stunt that endangers the health of cadets and those with whom they have had contact on their return to campus.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and an Army veteran, said in a statement last month that Trump's commencement address puts the young officers, who have already received their commissions, at unnecessary risk "all to stroke his own ego."
Top Army officials have defended the decision, pointing out that the seniors had to return to the campus before heading to their first active-duty posts. The seniors need to pass physicals and retrieve their belongings, Williams said.
The cadets, who are surveyed for symptoms before returning, have been arriving in groups and are tested and quarantined on arrival. So far, a "very, very low" number of the 800 who have returned have tested positive, Williams said. The remaining 200 seniors are scheduled to arrive Saturday.
The seniors have their temperatures checked daily, maintain social distancing and wear masks, Williams said.
Williams expressed confidence that commencement can be held safely and without putting the graduates or community at risk.
"I'm very, very confident in the resources we have here, both medical and administrative – how we're taking care of them," Williams said. "These are my sons and daughters. That's the way I talk to them."