Over the summer the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets worked hand in hand with the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and the School of Public Health to plan and implement strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the Corps of Cadets. Based on their recommendations, we made numerous adjustments to our operating procedures. From the cadet check-in process, unit daily activities/training, morning and evening formation, and dining procedures, everything was assessed and adjusted where necessary to ensure a safe environment for the cadets and Commandant’s staff.
During the check-in process procedures were implemented to ensure that incoming freshman and current cadets did not exhibit any symptoms or had been exposed to someone who had COVID-19. Everyone completed a detailed questionnaire about current health conditions and possible exposure. Then temperatures were taken at two different checkpoints, in the car before unloading and at the entrance of Duncan Dining Hall prior to moving into the dorms. Working closely with Residence Life, detailed procedures were developed to take care of cadets who test positive for or come in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
In addition to their standard issue uniforms, every cadet received two masks and one gaiter in order to comply with the university face coverings policy. The policy states everyone on campus must wear a face covering in indoor public areas on campus and outdoor spaces where six feet or more of physical distancing is difficult to maintain. Cadets will wear masks during formation, training times, and in and out of public spaces like the dorms, Duncan Dining Hall and the Leadership Learning Centers.
Hand sanitizing stations have been placed on every floor of every dorm and Leadership Learning Center, and in front of every elevator and entryway. Additional hand sanitizing stations were purchased to provide multiple points of access for cadets and staff ensuring the opportunity to disinfect before they enter a new area. With help from Facilities Services, all bathrooms in the Leadership Learning Centers and dorms will be properly cleaned at twice per day. As an extra precaution, all cadets have been advised to bring extra disinfectant. Once done in the bathroom or a shower stall, they will spray down the area to ensure the space is kept clean.
Training activities that typically took place in the dorm hallways could not be done within the parameters of physical distancing rules. As a result, any activity normally conducted in the hallways is now held outside where cadets are able to spread out.
Much planning was dedicated to developing a feeding plan that meets the needs of the Corps while operating within current COVID-19 guidelines. With a Corps of over 2300, a lot was taken into consideration when it came to developing the schedule. For the fall semester, the Corps is divided into five feeding blocks that work around academic schedules, and morning and evening formation. To continue the physical distancing protocol, morning and evening formation are spread out across the Quad. Physical training times will be conducted with 10 cadets or less, and certain training activities will not be conducted.
Signage across the Quad and in the dorms clearly communicates the face covering requirement, reminds cadets to practice healthy habits to include physical distancing and hand washing, and to self-monitor for COVID symptoms. Great care was taken to reduce the number of areas where large groups of students can congregate, adjusting traffic patterns by specifying doors for entry and exit into/out of buildings and providing safe study spaces for cadets.
A lot of time and effort went into planning for Freshman Orientation Week and the start of the new school year. Many of the processes and plans in place would not have come to fruition without the collaboration and support of Dr. Martha Dannenbaum, Director of Student Health Services, Dr. Mark E. Benden, Associate Professor and Department Head for the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the School of Public Health, and Dr. Shawn Gibbs, the Dean of the School of Public Health.
The processes and procedures the Corps of Cadets has in place this semester make for a different environment. All are necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of cadets. Through the Corps’ work with the Health Science Center, the Texas A&M School of Public, and Student Health Services, the Corps of Cadets can continue to operate while helping reduce the spread of COVID-19.
by Brittany Coker, Corps of Cadets