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West Point graduates to be in 'safety bubble' before Trump visit

When West Point's Class of 2020 graduates in June, the ceremony will feature much more distancing than the one seen here in 2014 did.

MIKKI L. SPRENKLE/U.S. ARMY

By ROXANA TIRON AND GLEN CAREY | Bloomberg | Published: April 30, 2020

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The 1,000 Army cadets returning to West Point to attend their graduation ceremony — headlined by President Donald Trump — will be subjected to strict screening and testing with New York state still at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump's decision to speak in person at the military academy's June 13 graduation raised concerns that the Army was unnecessarily risking exposing cadets and other staff to the virus at a time when New York is reeling from the health crisis and the military has struggled to address some incidents of contagion, especially on ships.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and West Point Superintendent Darryl Williams pushed back on those worries, saying the procedures being put in place will limit risk, even though cadets will raise their potential exposure by traveling back to academy. The graduates have been away from campus since early March, before widespread lockdowns and social distancing were established.

"We will do it safely," Williams told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. "They'll eat separately, they'll live separately and we'll make sure that they are ready to join our great United States Army. We have the ability to test and make sure that safety bubble is there for the cadets."

The Army graduation follows that of the Air Force Academy, whose main guest was Vice President Mike Pence. At that event, graduates were seated at least six feet part, prompting Trump — who has often minimized the virus and refused to wear a face mask — to say officials were being "politically correct."

Even if Trump didn't speak at the West Point ceremony, graduating cadets would have had to return to pick up gear, start clearance procedures and the process of the physicals they need to take before graduating, Williams and McCarthy said. Parents won't be attending the commencement, they added.

"They left March 6 on spring break," Williams said of the cadets, who go on to be officers in the Army. "They didn't have an opportunity to get any of their gear. They have to secure their gear, get their cars, but those are the lesser in priority in terms of the readiness they have to achieve before I turn them over to the Army."

A graduation ceremony is the culmination of a "hard-earned experience," added McCarthy.
 

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