Camp Ripley commander says about 200 of Iowa battalion experienced COVID-19 outbreak during training
A spokesperson with the Iowa National Guard disputed Brig. Gen. Kruse's description of events, saying there were just 15 COVID-19-positive soldiers sent back to Iowa from Minnesota during the June training.
LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — Nearly half of an Iowa National Guard battalion that came to train at Camp Ripley in Minnesota this summer became sick with or were exposed to COVID-19 while at the facility, according to the senior commander of the training center.
Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse included this information in an annual report to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, Sept. 1, during a committee of the whole meeting. Kruse said the battalion, which included about 500 soldiers, was among the first to arrive at the military installation in June after quiet months of March through May in the early days of the pandemic. He said in that time, camp officials were able to learn techniques for cleaning inside housing units between groups of soldiers, which was about to become useful as training groups arrived.
Kruse said they worked with St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls, Minn., and the number of soldiers requiring tests was overwhelming for the health care facility. He noted the outbreak spelled the end of the group’s training at Camp Ripley.
A spokesperson with the Iowa National Guard Tuesday provided conflicting information compared to Kruse’s description of events. According to Capt. Ramah Husidic, public affairs officer in Iowa, data kept by their joint operations center showed there were just 15 COVID-19-positive soldiers sent back to Iowa from Minnesota during the June training. These soldiers were quarantined at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa, upon arrival, Husidic said.
Brad Vold, public health/social services director for Morrison County in Minnesota, said while the county wasn’t directly involved with the matter, it was part of conversations with St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls at the time.
“My understanding was they would not have had the capacity to do everybody, that large of a group,” Vold said. “It would’ve been a huge challenge. … They would’ve never been able to test an entire unit of soldiers in one day.”
Vold said there was no evidence the soldier outbreak led to any community spread in Morrison County.
Kruse told the Crow Wing County Board the group was eight days into its two weeks of training when soldiers began exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
“They sent some kids to St. Gabe’s Hospital and they tested positive,” Kruse said. “So then they did contact tracing and the next day sent like 60 kids to St. Gabe’s to get tested. The Morrison County emergency manager threw up the flag, because you know at that time St. Gabe’s could only test about 50 people a day.
“So we overwhelmed the local hospital and its ability to do testing that week. They (the battalion) did a good job from that point on of contact tracing and isolation and stuff like that. But they left two days early and took the whole battalion back two days early, because COVID had just become all they were dealing with. So they basically quit and went home. So it was a testament of an outbreak that really became a training distractor for them.”
Efforts to reach Kruse later Tuesday to clarify the discrepancy with Iowa National Guard figures did not yield a follow-up interview. A phone call to St. Gabriel’s Hospital was not returned Tuesday.
Kruse also pointed to an Indiana battalion that he said did a good job screening soldiers before they came for training.
“The opposite of that in July we had a battalion come in from Indiana that spent a lot of time on the front end doing some really good screening of their soldiers,” he said. “They left a bunch back in Indiana, but they were able to bring 700 kids here and they didn’t have one case the whole two weeks they were here. So those are kind of two extremes of what I’ve experienced this summer.”