Marines, Air Force count six new coronavirus cases at bases in Japan
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 28, 2020
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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. military in Japan reported another six cases of the coronavirus Monday and Tuesday at bases on Okinawa and in Tokyo.
Also Tuesday, an Okinawa health official called on U.S. military personnel to stay on their installations and for tourists to stay away from the island to stem the further spread of the virus.
“It is very concerning as the off-base infection cases are rising currently and more foot traffic will be going out off base as Marines and their families start to go off base,” an Okinawa prefectural health spokesman told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday. “It will increase the chance of new infections.”
Capacity at local hospitals is stretched, he said. It’s customary in Japan for some government officials to speak to the media on condition of anonymity.
After a two-month stretch without a new infection, the number of cases on the island prefecture since July 8 has risen to 89. Gov. Denny Tamaki reported 21 new cases on Tuesday, according to the Okinawa Times. Okinawa has reported a total of 232 cases since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, the Marines on Okinawa reported two more cases of the virus Tuesday at Camp Hansen, one of two Marine installations where outbreaks occurred following the Fourth of July weekend. The other cluster is at nearby Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Together, the two bases account for 227 cases, by far the majority of U.S. military cases on Okinawa.
The Marines on Monday relaxed some restrictions on the island to permit service members, civilian employees and families to make use of essential services like auto repair, medical appointments, veterinarians and grocery stores in the community.
However, they are forbidden from spending their free time on nonessential activities like shopping or recreation or to patronize bars and clubs.
The Marines identified the two new cases as having had close contact with other individuals linked to the Camp Hansen cluster, according to a post on the Marine Corps Installations Pacific Facebook page.
The two were tested while in quarantine before being released, the post said. “All of these individuals have been moved into isolation,” it added.
The Marines, while specifying the number of new cases, did not identify them as Marines, Defense Department civilian employees, contractors or family members.
Also Tuesday, the Air Force reported two new cases at Yokota Air Base, headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo, according to a post on the Yokota official Facebook page.
The post said two other patients were released from isolation after testing negative, keeping Yokota’s number of active cases at five. The two new cases had been in contact with another infected person, the post stated.
On Monday, the Air Force also reported two new cases at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. One is affiliated with the military but the 18th Wing did not specify whether that person is a service member, civilian or family member, according to a post Monday on the base’s official Facebook page.
That person recently arrived at the base and tested positive at the end of the two-week period of restricted movement, the post said.
The second individual is a Japanese citizen who works at the rental car customer service counter at the Army and Air Force Exchange at Kadena, according to the post.
Because AAFES has installed plexiglass at the service counter, frequently sanitizes its surfaces and insists on patrons wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, “customer encounters with the employee do not meet the criteria of a close contact,” the Kadena post states.
Both individuals are in isolation, according to the post. Likewise, anyone identified by base public health authorities as a close contact of either individual is in quarantine, according to the post.
“We are taking effective measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and will continue communicating with our force, our families, and our local communities about positive COVID-19 cases,” the statement said. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Stars and Stripes reporter Seth Robson contributed to this report.