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Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy officials confirm 20 cadets quarantine after contracting COVID

Officials with the N.C. Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy in New London have confirmed that 20 cadets from two male teams have tested positive for COVID-19.

The positive cases were first discovered Aug. 10, a few days after cadets were granted a home pass to leave the campus Aug. 6-8, according to Brandy Mesimer, director of the New London campus.

All of the cadets have since been tested and they are isolating in their barracks. The 20 that tested positive are quarantining in another part of campus, away from those who tested negative.

The Tarheel ChalleNGe Youth program, sponsored by the North Carolina National Guard, has academies in Salemburg and New London. North Carolina teenagers ages 16-18 are eligible to enroll.

This is the first publicly reported school cluster in Stanly County for the new school year. The state defines a cluster as five or more cases of COVID-19 that appear to be related to school spread.

There have been more than 243 confirmed pediatric COVID-19 cases in Stanly since the beginning of July, when the highly transmissible delta variant first emerged, according to data from the health department. These account for almost 20 percent of the more than 1,286 total confirmed cases during that time.

The New London campus continues to work with the Stanly County Health Department, which just recently completed another round of testing, to make sure no other cadets were infected. Those results are not back yet.

The hope, Mesimer said, is that the cadets can go back to the classroom sometime next week.

One staff member has also tested positive, Mesimer said, though she is not sure he contracted the virus at the campus since he had been out on leave for personal reasons.

The Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy has been the only in-person school in the state that has been open for the past 18 months, according to State Director Col. (Ret.) Edward W. Timmons.

All cadets and staff are required to wear masks and practice social distancing, Timmons said, noting that “safety, health and welfare are our number one priority.”

The Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy follows all health and safety protocols in accordance with the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Timmons added.

The New London campus had one outbreak that occurred last December, when around 20 cadets tested positive, Mesimer said. Those group of students have since graduated.

Unlike in traditional schools, where students of all ages tend to congregate together, the three teams at the Academy — two male and one female — are always separated from each other.

“You never have different teams occupying the same space at one time,” Mesimer said. “You don’t have a mixture of different individuals from different living quarters in the same space at any given time.”

The separation of the teams “allows us a lot more control and ability to contain things,” she added.

The current class of cadets started in April and are due to graduate in September. Roughly 600 cadets have graduated from the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy in New London since it first opened in 2015, according to the school’s website.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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