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Number of coronavirus cases linked to US Forces Korea soars to 111 with new arrivals

Coroanvirus specimen bags are prepared for Patriot Express passengers arriving at Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 14, 2020.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 22, 2020

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SEOUL, South Korea — The number of coronavirus cases affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea soared to 111, with 12 more troops and a dependent testing positive after traveling from the United States to South Korea over the past two weeks, the military said Wednesday.

The increase reflected a surge in infections in the United States. USFK has insisted the arrivals pose no risk to local communities because they are tightly controlled with a strict testing and two-week quarantine process.

Ten service members and the dependent who tested positive arrived at Incheon International Airport on commercial flights on July 8, 9 and 19, according to a press release.

Two other infected troops flew to Osan Air Base on government-chartered flights known as the Patriot Express on July 8 and 20, it said.

Only two of the latest cases were positive upon arrival. The others initially tested negative, with one retested after developing symptoms and 10 receiving positive results in a second test required to exit quarantine.

All 13 were transferred to a converted barracks used for confirmed cases on Camp Humphreys, the main Army base on the divided peninsula.

Transportation and quarantine rooms used by those who tested positive were disinfected. Military health authorities decided there was little need for contact tracing since all arrivals from abroad must be tested and quarantined for two weeks, according to the press release.

No new arrivals “interacted with anyone residing within USFK installations or the local community,” other than those providing administrative and medical support, USFK said.

The military has mirrored South Korea in slowing local transmissions of the virus. Only two soldiers and 22 other members of the military community contracted the respiratory disease locally — the most recent in mid-April.

But the number of imported cases has surged, with 87 service members and dependents testing positive after traveling to South Korea for new assignments or returning after trips abroad.

The command has stopped giving an aggregate figure for patients remaining in isolation due to Defense Department guidance but says it’s “less than 1% of its active duty service members,” and has no effect on military readiness.

Some 28,500 service members are stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North after their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

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