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Kadena begins random coronavirus testing for airmen, others on Okinawa

Capt. Heather Bryant, a clinical nurse with the 18th Medical Operations Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, screens patients by phone to determine if they meet the criteria for coronavirus testing in this photo posted to the base Facebook page on May 9, 2020.

U.S. AIR FORCE

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 24, 2020

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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Kadena Air Base on Okinawa kicked off random coronavirus testing on active-duty airmen and Defense Department civilians this week to gauge the success of prevention measures.

The 18th Medical Group announced the testing program Tuesday on the Kadena Medical Clinic’s Facebook page. The message was then reposted on the installation’s main page.

Medical officials are aiming to test 1% of Kadena’s active-duty airmen and DOD civilians, as well as 10% of 18th Medical Group clinical staff, every 14 days, the statement said. Civilian participation is voluntary but “highly encouraged,” according to the medical group.

Two Kadena-based airmen and a visiting family member of one of the airmen tested positive at the base in March.

“As there have been no new COVID-19 cases identified on Okinawa since the end of April 2020, we expect very few, if any, positive results from surveillance testing,” the statement said. “However, given the constant influx of personnel both on and off base, the risk of exposure is ongoing.”

Outside the gates, Okinawa prefecture has thus far reported 146 coronavirus cases, the last of which was discovered April 30.

However, the tiny island prefecture, which began opening back up May 14, welcomes more than 10 million tourists per year under normal circumstances, and Kadena is an international hub for military aircraft and personnel.

“While Okinawa has not seen any new positive cases recently, we must not forget that the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and the 18th Wing remains focused on protecting the Force in order to preserve readiness,” the medical group statement said, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. “The initial response efforts focused on slowing and containing the spread of COVID-19 and has transitioned to expanding mission capacity while still ensuring the resiliency of our Airmen and their families.”

Airmen and civilians chosen for testing will be notified through their assigned unit one day before the test, the statement said. They will be directed to report to the 18th Medical Group under the authority of 18th Wing commander Air Force Brig. Gen. Joel Carey.

Civilians are encouraged to participate so the base leadership has “the most accurate assessment” of coronavirus status on the base.

Tricare Online will be the main method for member notification of a negative test result, the statement said. Results will be available about 48-72 hours after testing.

“Public Health will contact anyone with positive results,” the statement said. “These members will be considered positive for COVID-19 and will be required to isolate in their residence.”

Anyone who tests positive will have their recent contacts traced by the public health department. Everyone on base should keep their contact tracing logs up to date “and always ready for review,” according to the statement.

Anyone with recent, close contact with a subject who tests positive must also quarantine, the statement said. Those selected for testing will not need to be placed in movement restriction just because of the testing.

burke.matt@stripes.com

Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1

ichihashi.aya@stripes.com

Twitter: @AyaIchihashi

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