USAFA Cancels Fall Break, Shortens Semester Amid Pandemic

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets will forgo Thanksgiving break and end the fall semester early as the school adjusts its academic calendar in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cadets will finish final exams on Dec. 11, and winter break runs Dec. 14, 2020, to Jan. 1, 2021. While Thanksgiving still counts as a holiday, students won’t have extra travel time built in to visit their families. 

“Classes will be held on Veterans Day on Nov. 11 and the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 27,” USAFA said on its website. “Cadet liberties on Thanksgiving Day will be determined based on conditions at USAFA and in the local community.”

Colleges and universities nationwide are canceling the fall break and extending winter break to curb the odds that students will bring COVID-19 to their families or back to campus as a result of holiday travel.

That decision comes as the Colorado academy tries to quash a potential coronavirus outbreak in the cold-weather months.

About 1 percent of USAFA and its Preparatory School cadets are returning positive test results, school Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark said Oct. 29. Downtown Colorado Springs has a positivity rate of about 7 percent, and the academy is trying to keep the virus outside its gates.

“As we look ahead to winter break, our goal is to ensure that all cadets are able to depart the installation after final exams, if desired,” Clark wrote. “Any cadets who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be unable to travel.”

USAFA has tried to maintain some normalcy as it hosts the entire student body of about 4,400 cadets on campus this fall. It cut the spring 2020 semester short, sent all but the oldest students home, and graduated its seniors early in a socially distanced ceremony without friends and family.

The school brought all cadets back in August for a fall semester that mixes in-person and online classes. Cases of COVID-19 turned up over the summer and shortly after classes began Aug. 12, though the academy has not disclosed how many. About 750 cadets, faculty, and staff members are tested for the coronavirus each week in an effort to suppress further spread.

Now, USAFA is tightening restrictions while coronavirus cases rise in Colorado and around the United States. 

“Due to a steady upward trend in COVID-19 positives across the installation and greater Colorado Springs area, I have decided to increase our COVID-19 posture,” Clark wrote. “This was a difficult decision; however, your safety remains a top priority.”

Social gatherings are limited to 10 people under a new state health order. School officials are still urging students to stay home if they are sick, avoid coming within 6 feet of other people, wear face masks around others, wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid sharing personal items, and frequently clean often-touched surfaces.

“The virus is still very much alive and until we have an approved COVID-19 vaccine, adherence to the established public health measures remains our best defense,” 10th Air Base Wing Commander Col. Brian S. Hartless wrote. “Teleworking, zoning your workplaces, and teaming our workforce has and will continue to be incredibly important. Double down on these efforts and continue to look for ways to do things smarter and safer than we’ve ever done them before. … Individual choices affect everyone around us.”

Clark said cadets must remain on campus unless they need to leave to pick up take-out meals or shop for groceries or personal necessities. Seventy-five percent of classes will be held online starting Nov. 2, and all academic clubs and teams will meet and practice entirely online.

“I recognize the mental toll that these kinds of restrictions take on all of us,” Clark said. “I need your help. We are a family, and we need to look out for one another.”