Training at Fort Benning in Georgia continues despite a COVID-19 outbreak that infected nearly a quarter of the recruits in two of its training battalions at the beginning of June.
At the end of May, one cohort of 640 Fort Benning recruits -- all of whom had completed COVID-19 screening measures and tested negative prior to training operations -- reported a 22 percent infection rate just one week into training. While all 640 were COVID-negative when training operations began, 142 would test positive a week later. So, a total of 22 days after arriving at Benning, 142 of the 640 tested positive for the virus.
The high infection rate so soon after training began called into question the mitigation measures currently in place at the new recruit hub. All recruits are tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at Fort Benning. Then, regardless of testing results, all recruits go through a 14-day isolation and quarantine period. After those two weeks, training operations begin.
The testing, screening and quarantining process failed to prevent nearly a quarter of the new recruit class from contracting COVID-19. But three weeks later, that process remains unchanged, training continues and the Army is quickly headed towards becoming the branch with the most COVID-19 infections.
“The Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning continue to place health and safety of our soldiers, civilians and their families as our highest priority,” Fort Benning spokesperson Ben Garrett said in an emailed statement. “We are taking proactive steps to remind our personnel to adhere to the guidance outlined by the Center for Disease Control and the Defense Health Agency to help mitigate the spreading of illness like COVID-19.”
Fort Benning is providing clean bed space, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, linens and shower curtains to soldiers at the installation, Garrett said. The fort has “ample resources and supplies for life support,” and barracks spaces are being sanitized and disinfected regularly, he said.
Fort Benning public affairs did not respond to inquiries regarding the current recovery rates of the infected troops, infection rates within the larger Fort Benning population, what percentage of the population had been tested for COVID-19, or whether they had identified the origin of the outbreak within the infected soldiers.