The individual is the Air Force’s first trainee to test positive for COVID-19 at the service’s basic training on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.
The trainee reported to basic on March 18 along with 600 other new recruits, and as a precaution, was placed in a “restriction of movement” status, also known as ROM, in one of a series of 40-person groups.
The ROM phase lasts 14 days, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. It does not, however, add any additional time to basic training. Recruits in this phase are kept geographically separated from training flights further along boot camp.
The trainee started showing symptoms during their ROM period and was subsequently isolated from the other recruits. A viral tracing team is now looking to identify who the trainee had close contact with.
The trainee who tested positive will receive medical treatment and remain in isolation until the virus is gone, officials said.
“While a positive COVID-19 discovery is not desirable, the good news is we planned for this and our preparations worked,” Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command, said in a prepared statement. “The trainees were restricted during the incubation period and this allowed for limited exposure.”
The 40 other trainees from their ROM bay have all since been placed under quarantine.
“Practices put into place allow for the identification of COVID-19 while limiting the pool of individuals who can be infected," Webb added. "We take preparing for worst case scenarios seriously and that planning has paid off.”
Air Force health care providers will treat those who test positive for coronavirus, said Col. Jason Janaros, 37th Training Wing commander.
“This virus is obviously highly contagious, but, so is strong, calm leadership,” Janaros said. “With the situation evolving daily, leaders at every level are making rapid, clear-eyed assessments in order to protect the force’s health and safety."
The Air Force, like the Army, has opted to continue bringing recruits through the training pipeline, though officials have added various screening measures and, as in the case of the airman trainee, isolate and test those who become symptomatic.
During the restriction, trainees are placed in reduced-capacity living quarters, social distancing is enforced, and their exposure to other populations is extremely limited.
Despite preventative measures, coronavirus appears to spread easily, the Center for Disease Control warns. There is also strong evidence that it can be transmitted by people who aren’t yet showing symptoms or who are only mildly ill, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Janaros said base leaders are working with the San Antonio Metro Health Department to coordinate, investigate, and prevent outbreaks in the local area.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.