More Than 210 Army Personnel Test Positive for Coronavirus at Two Training Bases

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Trainees with 30th Adjutant General Battalion await instructions from drill sergeants.
Trainees with 30th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception) stand at parade rest while awaiting instructions from drill sergeants. (U.S. Army/Patrick A. Albright)

More than 140 Army soldiers and trainees at Fort Benning, Ga., and more than 70 at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., tested positive for the coronavirus, the Army said this week.

At Fort Benning, 142 soldiers and trainees with the 30th AG Battalion and 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, tested positive for the virus, out of more than 600 who were tested, the base said in a statement on Sunday.

Nearly all of the 640 total personnel had previously tested negative during a 14-day monitoring phase at the beginning of training last month. Four who tested positive at that time underwent 14 days of isolation and tested negative before being allowed to join the others, officials said in the statement.

Over a week later, another trainee developed symptoms and all 640 were tested again. The testing occurred over the weekend, Maj. Gen. Gary Brito, the base’s commanding general, said Monday in a Facebook video update.

A similar situation occurred at Fort Leonard Wood, where one trainee reported symptoms days after a 14-day monitoring period had ended, leading to the re-testing of 500 members of the 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment over the weekend, the base said in a separate statement also on Sunday.

All of the soldiers and trainees in the battalion had previously tested negative for the virus when their training started last month, the base said. This time 70 trainees tested positive.

"This is a scenario that we hoped would not happen, but I assure you that our health care professionals, our drill sergeants, cadre and chains of command have absolutely responded in a swift, precise and accurate manner," said Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, the base’s commanding general, in a Facebook video on Monday. "I’m very proud of them and their efforts."

The numbers of infected soldiers were released at the request of Army Training and Doctrine Command’s top general, in order to provide transparency, Lt. Gen. Ted Martin told Stars and Stripes on Twitter Monday. Martin is TRADOC’s deputy commanding general.

The 212 infected trainees and soldiers at both bases have been isolated or quarantined and most were asymptomatic, the bases said in the separate statements. None at either base had been hospitalized, officials said, and all relevant buildings, dining halls and training areas have been sanitized.

"Due to the aggressive mitigation strategies in place, the number of infected and exposed individuals has been minimized to the greatest extent possible, and contained within one training unit," Fort Leonard Wood’s statement said.

Similarly, the infected or exposed personnel at Fort Benning were limited to one training company in the One Station Unit Training battalion and the 30th AG Reception battalion.

There are separate lodging facilities for those in quarantine and those in medical isolation at the Georgia base, Brito said. They are being monitored by medical personnel and will only be allowed to return to training after a minimum 14-day period and a negative test result.

Fort Leonard Wood trains about 80,000 civilians and service members a year, primarily for boot camp, the 10-week process of becoming a combat soldier.

Each new class is being tested for the coronavirus at the start of training, as well as undergoing two weeks of "controlled monitoring," Tiffany Wood, a spokeswoman for the post, said Monday.

Officials at both Fort Benning and Fort Leonard Wood said the posts are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that suggest that drill sergeants and trainees wear cloth face coverings to mitigate the spread of the virus.

"If they are not able to do social distancing then the guidance is they should be wearing cloth face coverings," Wood said.

As per every new large class of basic combat training, each trainee is assigned to a smaller company. It was unclear on Monday if the outbreak at the Missouri base happened in one company or across the whole battalion.

Fort Leonard Wood is co tinuing forward with Army boot camp operations despite the outbreak among the new class of trainees.

"Right now there is no change," Wood said.

Fort Benning has trained about 11,000 soldiers since mid-March, nearly 8,000 of which have moved to their first duty stations or soon will, Brito said.

"We are expecting about 1,000 new future soldiers soon, and you can rest assured that each soldier will be greeted, screened, tested and monitored for a minimum of 14 days and tested again before training with their respective unit," the general said.  A Tribune News Service story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was used to compile this report.

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