Despite in-person field and physical training that Cornell ROTC cadets complete throughout the semester, they are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine, eliciting conflicting reactions to this decision.
“I personally think that ROTC should be eligible for the vaccine,” said Megan Steindl ’22, an ROTC. “Even when sports teams weren’t practicing, ROTC was still showing up and doing workouts together.”
Steindl is part of the Excelsior Battalion, which includes students at Elmira College, Ithaca College, SUNY Cortland and SUNY Binghamton.
“We do labs with other cadets from other schools, so it just seems like a lot of interactions that a vaccine could definitely mitigate any potential for passing COVID from everyone,” Steindl said.
Prior to the pandemic, cadets from Ithaca College would come to Cornell’s campus to train with Cornell cadets. Since then, Cornell has implemented safety measures that prevent IC cadets from training on campus.
For physical training, Steindl explained that Cornell ROTC cadets are now split into “PT pods,” which are groups of 10 to 15 cadets that train together. Within these groups, cadets train at a distance with masks on.
Similarly, during labs and field training, cadets are grouped into squads by school in order to ensure that they are mostly interacting with students from their own school.
While the cadets interact with students from other campuses more than other Cornell students, some believe that ROTC cadets are not at heightened risk of contracting the virus because of the implementation of new safety measures.
Isaac McCurdy ’21 believes vaccine eligibility is not necessary for cadets, noting ROTC’s emphasis on excellent health.
“To be in the army, we have to undergo a physical examination,” McCurdy said. “So basically, a whole bunch of the preexisting conditions that make you more likely to have severe COVID symptoms are also preexisting conditions that make you ineligible for army service.”
McCurdy mentioned that if ROTC cadets become eligible, rising seniors should be prioritized because they must complete summer training with cadets from all over the country.
“Would [the vaccine] be great for peace of mind, especially for cadets who are going to summer training? Yes,” McCurdy said.“For our own system here, I don’t think it’s actually that necessary.”
Samuel Margolis ’21 also believes that Cornell cadets should not be eligible for the vaccine solely because they are part of ROTC.
“I don’t think we deserve any special treatment,” Margolis said. “I view ROTC as training before I go off to even more training for the army. As of right now, I would not consider myself an essential worker in any way so that I would deserve a vaccine because I’m in ROTC.”