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Navy leaders have, for the third time, postponed service-wide fitness tests as the U.S. sees its most troubling jump in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
The Navy will now hold just one Physical Fitness Assessment in 2021, the service announced Wednesday. That will delay the start of the tests to March — a full year from when fitness assessments were first delayed.
All sailors will be required to participate in the 2021 PFA cycle, including those who scored an excellent or above on their last fitness test, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell wrote in a new service-wide administrative message.
Fitness assessments had been set to return in January, but Nowell said another delay will allow more tests to be held outside in the spring and summer, and will allow testing to start after the height of flu season.
“In order to continue to mitigate COVID-19 impacts to the fleet, [the] Navy will conduct one Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA) cycle in calendar year 2021 from 15 March to 15 September 2021, dependent upon local conditions and operational requirements,” Nowell said.
Shifting the PFA cycle to March, he added, “acknowledges the fact that, while vaccines and therapeutics are expected to be available, their timing and impact are unknown.”
It also gives sailors more time to prep for big changes to their Physical Readiness Test, which will soon include a core-strengthening forearm plank requirement in place of curl-ups, as well as a rowing cardio option. Nowell detailed the rules for those new events in the same message announcing the PFA delay.
The announcement comes as the U.S. hit record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases in early November. There were more than 116,000 new infections reported Nov. 5, which set another record for rising case counts. Deaths due to COVID-19, the sometimes-fatal illness caused by the novel coronavirus, also topped more than 1,000 per day multiple times the same week; nearly two dozen states are seeing their highest-ever spikes in cases.
The Navy first suspended fitness assessments in March. It was the first military service to do so, with other branches following the move.
Nowell announced a second delay in July, when states began seeing summer coronavirus spikes.
“We’ve done a great job minimizing the outbreak, but we can’t back off now,” he said over the summer.
Based on the results of their 2021 test, sailors will be able to earn exemption from the 2022 PFA cycle, Nowell said.
Commanders who report directly to the chief of naval operations have the option of waiving the 2021 PFA cycle if coronavirus conditions in their area prevent the assessments from being held safely. An updated physical readiness program guide will be updated here in accordance with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.