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Already on partial lockdown, Camp Humphreys hit with fifth coronavirus case

A social distancing decal is posted outside the exchange at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Friday, March 27, 2020.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 30, 2020

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SEOUL, South Korea Another American contractor working at Camp Humphreys tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, the fifth confirmed case at the largest U.S. base in South Korea, officials said.

Camp Humphreys, the largest overseas Army garrison and home to the main military headquarters on the divided peninsula, has been partially locked down since Friday after three people who worked at Eighth Army headquarters tested positive last week.

The new infections raised to 13 the total number of cases affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea, including two soldiers. The increase came as South Korea has seen its overall pace of infections slow, with only 76 new cases reported Monday, down from a high of 909 on Feb. 29.

The contractor was tested on Sunday and the results came back early Monday. He is in isolation at his off-base residence as directed by the Korea Centers for Disease Control, according to a press release.

He last visited Camp Humphreys on Friday, it said, adding that U.S. military and KCDC officials are conducting contact tracing to determine if anybody else may have been exposed.

Garrison commander Col. Michael Tremblay said 27 people who worked with the contractor and six others who came in close contact had been sent home for self-quarantine.

His workplace and a convenience store he had visited were thoroughly cleaned. USFK didn’t identify where he worked but said it wasn’t at Eighth Army headquarters.

“We’ve identified everyone. The team is getting much more efficient here,” Tremblay said in a Facebook live update.

Orders barring nonessential movement on Camp Humphreys, a sprawling base with a population of more than 37,000 people, would remain in effect at least through Thursday, USFK said.

The military has been on high alert since Feb. 24 after a coronavirus outbreak began in the southeastern city of Daegu and spread, with 9,661 cases confirmed as of Monday.

It restricted access to bases and banned service members from nonessential travel or social activities off post, but activities continued inside the gates albeit with new rules for social distancing and avoiding large groups.

That changed last week after the first American contractor tested positive on Tuesday. USFK officials said he had apparently infected the other two after violating the rules and dining at local restaurants.

Camp Humphreys went to take-out only on post as well. On Friday, it ordered people to only go out for bare necessities, halted bus and taxi service and imposed a limit of 100 people at a time inside the commissary, prompting long lines.

Other bases listed Camp Humphreys as a hot spot, largely preventing entry from most people who had been there over the past week.

In addition to the latest contractor, a South Korean woman who worked at Camp Humphreys tested positive on March 6. The other seven cases were on bases in Daegu and nearby areas.

In all, two soldiers have been infected along with the three contractors, four military dependents and four South Korean employees.

Some 28,500 U.S. 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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