By HEATHER MONGILIOCAPITAL GAZETTE |SEP 10, 2020 AT 6:46 PM
Midshipmen will be allowed in downtown Annapolis this weekend as the Naval Academy granted town liberty with restrictions.
Capt. Thomas R. Buchanan, commandant of midshipmen, informed the brigade of liberty in an email, according to screenshots of the email posted to Instagram accounts.
“Since the beginning of August our senior leadership team, in consultation with medical professionals, has been proactively monitoring COVID conditions and has initiated a robust surveillance suppression testing regiment that enabled us to establish gating criteria for the Brigade of Midshipmen liberty,” Buchanan said in a statement.
“I am happy to report that recent numbers are favorable and midshipmen will begin conducting structured liberty this week.”
The decision to grant liberty comes after concerns from midshipmen that the lack of liberty was contributing to low morale on the Yard, The Capital reported on Sunday.
This is the first time that the plebes will be able to leave the Yard for liberty since they arrived in early July.
The liberty comes with restrictions, including not allowing the midshipmen to purchase or consume alcohol. Midshipmen are also not allowed to go to bars or clubs, wear civilian clothes, attend public gatherings, eat at sit-down indoor establishments or have overnight liberty, academy spokesperson Cmdr. Alana Garas wrote in an email.
The midshipmen will be required to wear masks and their summer white uniforms while on liberty, although masks may be temporarily removed while eating or drinking. They must remain within a 20 miles radius of the chapel dome and may not be in groups of more than than 10 people.
The Naval Academy is starting with test cases on Thursday and Friday, Buchanan said in his video. More midshipmen will be granted town liberty on Saturday and Sunday.
Liberty will begin at noon on Saturday and end between 8 and 11 p.m., depending on the class. It will start again on Sunday at 8 a.m. and end between 4:30-6 p.m. depending on the class, according to a presentation given to the midshipmen and obtained by The Capital. A buddy system will be in place.Midshipmen could be in downtown Annapolis as early as Thursday as the Naval Academy granted town liberty with restrictions for the weekend.
Midshipmen will be allowed to visit their sponsors with sponsor permission. They may also dine outside, although the academy prefers take out, and can ride in civilian-owned vehicles or rideshare services, as long as masks are worn, Garas said.
Liberty comes after there have been favorable results in COVID-19 testing, Buchanan said in his Wednesday Dant Daily Instagram story.
“But we have good numbers and pretty optimistic about how this will go,” he said.
The Naval Academy previously told The Capital that less than 2% of the brigade tested positive for COVID-19, although it is unclear how many additional midshipmen have been quarantined after potential exposure.
Structured liberty will be evaluated on a week-by-week basis, he said.
“The Naval Academy leadership team will continue to closely monitor weekly surveillance testing results and the COVID situation regionally, and as necessary expand or contract liberty options if appropriate,” Buchanan said in his statement.
Depending on how liberty goes, the academy could relax restrictions, including those on alcohol, lack of overnight liberty and attire, according to the presentation.
A midshipman wears a face mask to protect against COVID-19 while walking with laundry at the U.S. Naval Academy, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Under the siege of the coronavirus pandemic, classes have begun at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But unlike at many colleges around the country, most students are on campus and many will attend classes in person.
Heather Mongilio is the Report For America corps member with the Capital Gazette, where she covers military affairs. Mongilio previously reported at The Frederick News-Post and the Carroll County Times. She earned a master’s degree in science writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree from American University.