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Coronavirus spreading at Parris Island and Fort Jackson, the U.S.'s largest training bases


A Drill Instructor School instructor teaches a candidate at Parris Island on April 25, 2019. File/Cpl. Andrew Neumann/U.S. Marine Corps/Provided

South Carolina is home to two of the military's largest training bases, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and the Army's largest basic combat training center at Fort Jackson in Columbia. 

Both, as of Wednesday, have multiple positive cases of the new coronavirus. The two installations see upwards of 60,000 men and women annually, making them potential hot spots for exposure.  

And, because of Pentagon directives, training will not stop. It is deemed essential to national security to keep the bases open and to keep turning civilians into service members.

The Marine Corps' boot camp confirmed Wednesday that two service members tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The two Marines were notified last week that they tested positive for COVID-19. They were already in isolation because they had started showing symptoms.

"Both Marines work in offices independent and separate from recruit training locations," a statement from Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Yarbrough said. "There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among drill instructors at this time." 

Nearly 20,000 recruits go through the training depot annually.

The announcement of the cases comes just two days after Fort Jackson in Columbia, the Army's largest training base, reported two positive coronavirus tests: one of them a recruit, the other an officer. 

On Wednesday, two more positive cases were announced, which brought the total to four on the Army post. At least 45,000 go through basic combat training there every year.

As of Wednesday night, there were at least 11 confirmed cases at military bases in the Palmetto State, including one at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort as well as four at Charleston Air Force Base.

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Despite the positive tests, the Pentagon has not ceased training or curbed all gatherings of service members at the bases. Training is considered a crucial need for national security.

All bases have started to take extra precautions but have not fully stopped all social interactions among the ranks.

Recruits at Parris Island still sleep in barracks and bunks, but there has been 6 feet of distance put between them. Preliminary screening for the virus is done after enlistment and again when they arrive on the island. Religious services are now streamed to avoid congregations and potential coronavirus spread.

Fort Jackson has increased distancing between soldiers in the barracks, has limited access to only essential personnel and is doing health screenings at the front gates. Additionally, leadership on the base has stopped all hand-to-hand combat training for recruits and issued them all personal hand sanitizer dispensers.

Department of Defense-run schools near Parris Island and Fort Jackson were shut down last week as an added precaution.

The Pentagon, which tracks the cases among uniformed personnel, dependents, Defense Department civilians and contractors, on Tuesday reported 174 positive COVID-19 cases among service members. 

"I am grateful for everyone's patience and empathy over the last month as we have been fighting the spread of COVID-19," Fort Jackson Commander Gen. Milford Beagle said in a statement. "We need to continue to work together and help each other as we navigate through this health emergency."

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly reports on the military community across South Carolina. He also covers growth and development in Berkeley County. Previously, he wrote for the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.

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