CAPE MAY - While the nation confronts COVID-19, the U.S. Coast Guard continues to perform critical missions, including training of its recruits at its training facilities, including Coast Guard Training Center Cape May. However, operations are not without added safety measures intended to protect its staff and recruits.
According to Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Tamargo, public affairs officer, Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, the last company of recruits, with 78, arrived March 17. The next company is scheduled to arrive April 7, but that can change, depending on how the COVID-19 situation changes.
As of March 27, no one at the facility has tested positive for COVID-19, Tamargo said. The base is open for essential Coast Guard operations, support of those operations, and its recruit training mission. Those not considered essential have been instructed to stay home.
“Recruits in transit to Cape May undergo an advanced screening for symptoms at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) prior to arrival at Cape May,” Tamargo said. “MEPS increased its screening protocol to take each member’s temperature on arrival, and not allow family members or visitors in MEPS stations. All personnel entering the MEPS, including applicants, employees and guidance counselors/service liaisons, are temperature-screened. Only mission-essential personnel are allowed in the MEPS.”
Upon arrival at the facility, Tamargo said recruits are screened off the bus to identify persons with potential symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath).
“If a recruit has symptoms, they are isolated and separated from the group,” he noted. “Recruit companies are already isolated from each other, per normal operations. Companies do not intermix.
“If anyone (recruit and active duty staff) has a positive health finding (cough, fever, shortness of breath), we then work within current Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Coast Guard medical guidelines for patients suspected of a COVID-19 infection. These guidelines include ruling out other illnesses, such as strep throat, influenza, pneumonia and ear infections, then moving to quarantine, observation and possible testing.”
If a person is suspected of COVID-19, they would be isolated in a separate location on base, away from the regular recruit population, he said. “We would then take appropriate action for those who may have had contact with the patient per CDC guidelines.”
Coast Guard Training Center Cape May has a limited supply of COVID-19 testing kits, so these are currently being reserved for high-risk situations and require the authority of the senior medical provider before test ordering is approved. The facility's medical staff also are in daily communication with the state's Department of Health.
“The base is very sensitive to the spread of illness at all times of the year due to the close-quarters nature of basic training,” Tamargo said. “Our medical and training staff work to identify personnel early who have symptoms of any kind and get them to treatment.
“Recruit companies are already separated from each other and have minimal to no contact with other companies,” he continued. “With the risk of COVID-19, we have implemented enhanced sanitation, hygiene and cleaning of spaces to help mitigate potential spread of illness here. Recruits undergo training in social distancing conditions when training objectives allow.”
In addition to the enhanced medical screening, Tamargo said the base has enacted several other measures (as of March 27) to ensure the safety and health of personnel, including:
* Reducing the hours of and limiting access to the Coast Guard Exchange. The exchange remains open to active duty, staff and dependents, although access to the base has been limited. Coast Guard leadership has made it a priority to keep the Cape May Exchange stocked and staffed.
* Ordering members to limit travel to “local travel only for essential items,” i.e. grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, etc., as per state and CDC guidelines.
* Not allowing families and guests to attend graduation ceremonies until further notice, livestreaming them online. All graduation-related activities, such as the family meet and greet and breakfast before graduation, have been suspended, as well.
* Suspending recruit leave after graduation and before they report to their first unit. Recruits report directly to their first unit upon completion of boot camp.
* Encouraging support of local restaurants who are offering take-out and delivery service. The base’s food pantry is not in place at this time.
“The pipeline to provide our Coast Guard operational units - cutters, boats and aircraft - across the country with a mission-ready workforce starts here, in Cape May County, at Training Center Cape May,” said Capt. Kathy Felger, the facility's commanding officer.
“We are constantly assessing all aspects of this dynamic environment related to COVID-19,” she added. “We will make decisions based on the best information to ensure we continue to keep all of our Training Center Cape May community safe, as well as those we serve.”
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