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COVID-19 outbreak has U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in lockdown

The entrance of the United States Merchant Marine

The entrance of the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point is in lockdown after more than 100 midshipmen tested positive for COVID-19, according to officials there.

The outbreak has resulted in the suspension of face-to-face classes and restricted the student body of approximately 700 midshipmen to their barrack rooms since March 3, with breaks for outdoor exercise, according to the academy. The lockdown was to last 10 to 14 days.

"I am certain this will be a temporary measure to get our ship back in the middle of the channel and that together we will provide safety for our midshipmen and our community," USMMA Superintendent Vice Admiral Jack Buono told parents in a March 4 video posted to the academy's Facebook page.

More than 5% of the 700 midshipmen tested positive in early March, triggering the lockdown under state guidelines on when universities and colleges must shift to remote instruction and close the campus, he said.

About 40 additional midshipmen tested positive since the beginning of 2021.

In a March 3 memo to the USMMA community addressed to "Shipmates," Buono said midshipmen would be restricted to their rooms, all classes would convert to virtual/distance learning, sports and club activities would be suspended, and "The Commandant, along with Northwell Health, will institute a regiment-wide COVID testing protocol for all MIDN [midshipmen]."

The academy also suspended its liberty program, which, since January, allowed midshipmen to leave campus on weekend outings. Before then, they were restricted to campus, which remained nearly COVID-19-free, according to school officials.

The liberty program was put in place at the request of the midshipmen after winter break, with the proviso that weekly testing of a third of the midshipmen yielded a positivity rate of under 3%, or fewer than eight positive cases. Midshipmen were required to observe safety guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on their off-campus outings.

Second-trimester final exams have been postponed for a week to give students an opportunity to focus on exam preparation once the lockdown is lifted, school officials said.

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