Home News COVID-19 Situation NMMI cadets return to COVID-altered environment

NMMI cadets return to COVID-altered environment

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Lisa Dunlap Photo The New Mexico Military Institute has detailed its COVID prevention practices and its prior discussions with state officials in a letter to the Higher Education Department.

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Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle describes the planning needed for the upcoming academic year at New Mexico Military Institute as “war-gaming.”

“Since we went into the online posture last March, we have spent the entire summer war-gaming — a military term — all the ‘what if’ possible different scenarios to try to come up with an answer to deal with them,” said the NMMI president and superintendent.

What that means is that the Institute will start its programs this week in the midst of the coronavirus crisis with one plan, but with a slew of alternatives already prepared should changing public health orders, governor’s executive orders or health concerns require different actions or strategies on post, the term NMMI uses to describe its campus.

Today is when some cadets in the basic Early Commissioning Program for U.S. military academies show up. Some will remain as NMMI cadets when they finish the program. Others are enrolled at one of the other three military junior colleges in the United States and will return to their schools after the program ends.

During the next few weeks, the “cascade” of NMMI cadets will arrive in various groups, until most are expected back by the time classes start Aug. 17.

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But, in exchange for having in-person classes and the typical NMMI experience, cadets will find a very different post, as described in a 37-page document outlining fall plans and protocols.

There will be barriers around various portions of the post to keep visitors from buildings unescorted or without first completing health screens. And, this fall, visitors will be barred from some areas, including the library, Luna Hall and the chapel during cadets’ religious services.

There will be infrared cameras to scan groups to detect anyone outside normal temperature ranges. Other COVID “seek scan” stations measuring temperatures at the tear duct will be placed at seven high-traffic areas on campus. Thermometers and other screening tools will be used elsewhere.

“We have developed layers of protections and layers of screening and processing, if you will, on a continual basis,” Grizzle said.

The plan has been submitted to the New Mexico Higher Education Department and conforms to protocols of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

According to the state Higher Education Department, each college and university will submit its own plan of “protocols, guidelines and schedules that address the diverse safety needs and issues for their students, faculty, staff and community members.”

For NMMI, all cadets will receive a COVID test upon arrival. Then, given the three- to five-day COVID incubation period, all will be tested after their fourth day on post. They also will be quarantined on post for 14 days after arrival, with no time allowed off post. Those who test positive will be isolated from others in rooms set aside for the purpose or, if necessary, in the infirmary.

Only if cleared by the two tests will cadets be allowed to remove their cloth face coverings around each other, but they still will be required to wear them whenever off post or around visitors.

Grizzle said that all cadets on post will attend classes, with faculty and staff also required to be tested for COVID prior to interacting with students and to wear face shields or coverings or maintain at least 6 feet between themselves and students.

Online instruction will be given only to students barred from traveling to NMMI.

“We have and anticipate some students who can’t get here, maybe not at all during this semester, due to travel restrictions from their states or countries,” Grizzle said. “We are also dealing quite a bit with the backlog of student visas at embassies.”

The cost of preparing the post has been expensive, Grizzle acknowledged, but some expenses will be covered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding. Costs include the planned purchase of a rapid-results COVID-testing apparatus for the infirmary to test cadets that other screening methods have indicated might have COVID-19, and the installing of 280 hand-sanitizing or hand-washing stations for classrooms and instructional areas.

“We have exceeded all the requirements out there as far as the safety of our cadets is concerned,” Grizzle said, adding that the plan also is meant to protect employees.

The coronavirus situation has taken a toll on admission numbers, Grizzle said, because the Institute could not engage potential students in the usual recruitment process during the spring and summer.

He said the 10-year enrollment number is 917, and the Institute at this time is projecting 800 to 825 cadets for the fall.

Grizzle said the on-post experience is what most cadets say they want, adding that many parents of international cadets told him that they would probably find another school rather than have their students enroll in an online-only program.

“They miss the environment of NMMI,” he said. “They miss the camaraderie. They miss the very structured educational system we have here. You just don’t get this online.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

 

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.