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Air Force Academy eases restrictions after 2 suicides

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Social distancing restrictions at the Air Force Academy have been relaxed after it reported two cadet suicides in less than a week following attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Emails obtained from the academy show the Colorado Springs base had received complaints about how the policies made the school prison-like for about 1,000 cadets who remained on the campus, the Gazette reported.

The Air Force's Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein met with leaders and cadets at the academy Monday following the reported suicides last week.

"After last night and today, thank you for all the conversations and direct engagement with me and (Air Force) senior leaders," superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria said in an email Monday announcing policy changes. “I asked them to come out and talk to you and I am grateful that despite the travel restrictions, they wanted to talk to you.”

The policy adjustments came after academy leaders sent cadets from the lower three classes home to finish the year online and kept the remaining senior class on campus, spreading them out across emptied dormitories. They were ordered to stay on campus and stay separated from one another while taking online classes and eating take-out meals from the school's dining facility.

The cadets who died by suicide were set to graduate this spring. The changes were made in response to the deaths, though it is not clear to what extent the isolation played a role in the suicides.

Cadets are now able to venture off campus for drive-through food, wear civilian clothing on Fridays and congregate in small groups compliant with state guidelines, academy leaders said in an email to students and staff. Long marching practice tours where cadets are closer than six feet from their classmates were also temporarily suspended.

"No one is being punished for social distancing violations. Be smart!" Silveria said.

Alcohol also will be allowed on the campus, just not in dormitories or cars, and staff was encouraged to bring their dogs to work, according to the email.

The academy did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Some have argued the changes could subject the campus to a coronavirus outbreak that the stricter rules intended to prevent.

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