The U.S. Army announced Monday that it is halting all shipments of recruits to basic training for at least two weeks as the highly contagious novel coronavirus continues to spread across the country.
Army initial-entry training officials had already instituted a wide range of steps to protect the service's training bases from COVID-19, ranging from screening procedures to strict social-distancing practices such as reducing the number of recruits that ship each week by 50%.
"In order to expand these measures and in concert with guidance from the Department of the Army ... decisions have been made to pause the shipment of trainees to Basic Combat Training," Gen. Paul Funk II, commander Training and Doctrine Command, told reporters Monday during a virtual news conference. "This conditions-based pause allows leaders to further focus on setting conditions to restart movement in a safer manner. I want to be clear that this is not a pause in training for the soldiers currently at our training centers."
Currently, there are about 54,000 trainees undergoing BCT and advanced individual training at the Army's initial-entry training centers at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
"We are in great shape now if you are talking readiness ... we have about 54,000 in some form or fashion in the training [phase] now," Funk said. "So as we fill the units and generate some more space, we will be able to bring in more folks.
"Right now, it's not impacting readiness," he added.
During the pause, commanders will ensure that the "appropriate procedures, processes, materials and personnel are in place to thicken the medical capabilities at each of our training centers," Funk said. He would not detail how many trainees at the training centers have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
After the initial two weeks of the pause, "we are going to continue to assess the environment and go from there," Funk said.
Over the weekend, the Pentagon released new guidance instructing soldiers to wear face coverings in situations where six feet of social distancing isn't possible.
Funk said he is confident that this will not mean a major change for trainees.
"We put into place social distancing as a matter of our training environment anyway," he said. "There will be very few areas where we have to use the face covering."
The pause comes at a good time since April and May are typically the Army's lowest shipping months, Funk said.
"We are at a good spot in the Army in terms of getting the conditions set to really be ready for the summer surge," he explained.
To control the possible spread of the virus, the Army's Center for Initial Entry Training has already drastically revamped its procedures for housing and training new soldiers.
The Army has cut the number of trainees it ships each week from about 1,200 to about 600 to allow them to be spaced farther apart in the barracks. In addition, training centers have also started a 14-day "controlled monitoring" phase of BCT, where groups of up to 30 new trainees are kept separate from others, in case any of them develop COVID-19 symptoms in that time period.
Trainees spend most of that time doing fitness training and participating in outside classroom-style training on soldier skills that would normally occur throughout BCT.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.