More than 4,000 cadets at the Air Force Academy returned to class Wednesday, making it the first college campus in Colorado to bring back in-person learning amid the pandemic.

The academy, which sent 3,000 cadets home to learn online in March as coronavirus hit Colorado, still isn’t back to normal.

The campus remains closed to the public, masks are a mandatory uniform item and many events, including the start of the football season, are postponed or in limbo.

But the main mission of the school — training future lieutenants over a 47-month schedule — is back on track.

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“The entire cadet wing of approximately 4,400 is on campus and classes are roughly 50/50 online and in-person,” academy spokesman Mike Slater said in an email.

“We are using smaller class sizes to create social distancing space for in-person learning.”

Bringing cadets back to Colorado Springs has meant thousands of tests at the school as cadets and staff members are repeatedly checked for the coronavirus.

When freshmen came to the school in June, each was tested for the virus, and those who were infected were quarantined on the campus.

The same was done as the other classes returned.

The academy has also taken the unprecedented step of housing some virus-free cadets in hotels in northern Colorado Springs to create quarantine space in the school’s dormitories.

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The school plans to house as many as 500 cadets off-campus.

Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep Doug Lamborn on Wednesday said the academy’s efforts to continue its mission while wrestling COVID-19 threats sets an example other institutions can follow.

“I think they are showing leadership, and I am glad they are making it work,” he said.

The Naval Academy in Maryland and the U.S. Military Academy in New York have similar plans for the fall.

Air Force was the first major service academy to welcome its full roster of cadets back to campus.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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