WEST POINT, N.Y. - A handful of cadets from the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2020 who were expected to attend a graduation ceremony where President Donald Trump is scheduled to serve as the commencement speaker this month have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
A U.S. Army spokesperson said that out of 1,100 cadets who are expected to attend the graduation ceremony "about 1 ½ percent" tested positive.
“This was anticipated. None were symptomatic, and no cadet has contracted through person-to-person contact while under the Army’s care,” the spokesperson said.
The cadets who tested positive were isolated and received “appropriate care and attention, while we continue an orderly reintegration of our cadets,” according to the spokesperson.
The Army is scheduled to hold a U.S. Military Academy live graduation ceremony at West Point, New York, on June 13 with Trump as the commencement speaker.
FILE - West Point graduates attend the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2019 graduation ceremony at Michie Stadium on May 25, 2019 in West Point, New York. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)
Army leaders defended their decision to bring students back, saying that despite the coronavirus risk, students would have had to return anyway to prepare for their next duty assignment. The decision has been criticized as a political move to get Trump on stage at the academy, where he hasn’t yet given a graduation address. But Army officials said the students must return for final medical checks, equipment and training.
In its first-ever virtual graduation and commissioning ceremony, the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22 welcomed a new class of officers into the Navy and Marine Corps as the sea services steer through the coronavirus crisis.
In remarks recorded earlier in the week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper congratulated the 1,017 graduating midshipmen, reminded them of the importance of character, trust and leadership, and pointed to the pandemic as an example of unexpected challenges they will inevitably face in their military careers.
“While the coronavirus is a daunting and, in some ways, an unprecedented challenge, it is just one of the many trials you'll experience throughout a lifetime of military service,” Esper said. “As new threats continue to emerge, you must remain ready, vigilant and prepared to defend our country, our people and our way of life.”
The Navy's top officer, Adm. Mike Gilday, was unable to attend the recording session in which Esper and other officials delivered speeches for Friday's virtual ceremony because Gilday remains in quarantine at his home after having come intp contact earlier this month with a family member who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The ceremony at Annapolis, Maryland, comes at a tumultuous time for the Navy as it struggles with the coronavirus and leadership crises in tandem.
On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Kenneth Braithwaite, a former U.S. ambassador to Norway and a 1984 graduate of the Naval Academy, as Navy secretary. He took over for James McPherson, who held the job temporarily after the acting Navy secretary, Thomas Modly, resigned the post under pressure in April. Modly had stepped in when Richard Spencer was fired last November in a dispute with the White House over disciplinary action against a Navy SEAL.
The Navy has suffered coronavirus outbreaks on two deployed ships — the USS Kidd and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier that was sidelined in Guam in late March with an outbreak that has infected at least 1,100 members of its crew. The Roosevelt this week returned to sea for training in preparation to resume its duties in the Pacific. Results of a widened Navy investigation into how the Roosevelt's officers and their Navy chain of command handled the coronavirus outbreak are due soon.
The decision not to have a live Naval Academy graduation ceremony reflects concern about the coronavirus pandemic. It stands in contrast to the Air Force, which held a scaled-back live graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colorado on April 18. The ceremony was attended by Vice President Mike Pence, but without the large crowd that normally fills the academy’s football stadium.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.