Random testing for the sometimes deadly COVID-19 virus has helped keep positive cases of coronavirus “well below” 1% of the cadet student body, the Air Force Academy says.
The school had tested more than 5,000 cadets and staffers by last week, said spokesman Mike Slater, who added that the Department of Defense will not allow the release of exact numbers of positive cases at military bases.
The school credits mask-wearing, social-distancing and hybrid classes, as well as the use of classroom Plexiglas, for its self-proclaimed success.
Proactive testing is key because 80%-90% of individuals in the cadets’ age group who have the virus show no symptoms, or only mild symptoms, but are still able to transmit the virus, according to the school.
Slater also credits the school’s “pandemic math team,” composed of more than 20 faculty members with doctoral degrees, in keeping the case count low.
“As soon as we had sent our bottom three classes home during the spring, we were already looking at, ‘How do we safely bring everybody back and have our full cadet student body on campus?’” he said.
“The biology department was leaning out, saying, ‘I think we can do testing in house, and that grew to be more of a multidisciplinary idea.”
The team — composed of individuals who specialize in computer science, biology, virology, statistics and other disciplines — has run more than 1 million computer models of what various scenarios might look like, including varying volumes of testing and the allowance of extended privileges to cadets.
To further efficiency, the academy runs coronavirus tests in batches of eight, allowing them to be run “within a matter of hours” in the school’s biology department.
If a batch returns positive, each sample in the batch is tested individually, cutting testing time to a fraction of the time it would take to run each sample individually, Slater added.
“It reduced the amount of tests we have to use as well, and makes it a fiscally responsible thing to do,” he said.