A COVID-19 outbreak on campus has prompted Riverside Military Academy, a Gainesville college-preparatory boarding school, to send cadets home early and have them complete the last 10 days of the semester and final exams remotely.
“It’s absolutely COVID-19 related,” Britt Daniel, Riverside’s executive vice president, said. “We had a very good isolation plan to accommodate a certain amount of cadets who needed to isolate because of the heightened contact tracing requirements in place. Now we have outstripped our capacity.”
When a cadet tests positive for COVID-19, Daniel said they’re sent to their own room in a separate section of the barracks to isolate for 10 days. He said those who have been in close contact with cadets identified with COVID-19 are also separated from the others but are isolated for 14 days.
Daniel said the academy is aware of 27 positive COVID-19 cases among its cadets, and around 70 were determined as close contacts. He said the isolation portions of the barracks have enough to house 60 boys.
“If we had not made the call when we did, we would not be able to isolate the close contacts of positive patients,” he said. “It wasn’t the positive cadets giving the challenge, it’s the number of cadets identified through contact tracing because we’re a boarding school environment.”
Daniel said the first positive case in this current round was confirmed on Monday, Nov. 9, then four more cases were identified Tuesday, Nov. 10. The academy has had two “leave weekends” the entire semester. For Halloween weekend, Daniel said around 200 cadets went home.
“And of those first five cases on Monday and Tuesday, four of those cadets had gone home for Halloween,” he said.
After testing more cadets, he said the number jumped to 27 cases, most of which are asymptomatic.
So far, Riverside cadets have undergone 13 weeks of in-person learning on campus. The fall semester is still scheduled to end Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Starting, Friday, Nov. 13, the academy stated in a press release that its cadets were released from campus to return home. Those who tested positive for COVID-19 and the around 70 identified as close contacts, will go home Saturday, Nov. 14.
Daniel said he fully expects to have some cadets stay until Nov. 24, and “a little bit after that.” However, if a parent wants to take their boy home, they can.
Col. Staś Preczewski, president of the academy, stated that the school started the semester with an aggressive schedule, keeping students in class six days a week.
“In addition to regular testing we invested close to $1 million in thermal temperature scanners, no-touch water dispensers, hand sanitizer stations across the campus, increased cleaning and sanitation protocols, and the addition of a nurse practitioner to the academy’s infirmary staff,” he said in the release. “I’m extremely proud of the way these young men have conducted themselves under challenging circumstances. They will take life lessons away from this semester.”
To protect cadets, staff and community members, the academy prohibited visiting and leaving the campus for the first six weeks of school.
Riverside Military Academy tentatively plans to reopen for the spring semester mid-January.
“I think parents in the spring may be even more willing to keep their sons restricted to campus for longer periods” Preczewski stated in a press release. “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students remain our first priorities, and our data prove how successful we can be with in-person learning if we keep everyone on campus and strictly limit visitations.”