Osan Air Base confirms coronavirus cases but says health alert level unchanged
By KIM GAMEL AND MATTHEW KEELER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 1, 2020
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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — Officials at Osan Air Base confirmed new coronavirus cases Wednesday, saying teams were cleaning the affected facilities and urging people who had visited them to self-quarantine and contact their leadership.
The 51st Fighter Wing would not provide the number of people infected or give more details, citing operational security, but said the health alert level for the base was not being raised from HPCON Bravo and the facilities would resume normal operating hours on Thursday.
The announcement came hours after U.S. Forces Korea, which oversees all forces on the divided peninsula, reported an American service member tested positive for the virus after arriving on a commercial flight at Incheon International Airport and being bused to a quarantine barracks at Camp Humphreys on Sunday.
“Since testing positive, he has been moved to Camp Humphreys’ isolation barracks designated for confirmed COVID-19 cases,” according to a USFK statement. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. Military health professionals also thoroughly cleaned the bus and quarantine room he had occupied, it said.
That raised to 40 the number of confirmed cases affiliated with USFK since the virus began spreading rapidly in South Korea in late February, including 13 active-duty troops who recently arrived for new assignments. It was unclear how the Osan Air Base cases would affect that number.
The air base is home to the terminal that receives the government-chartered Patriot Express, which carries troops and their loved ones to and from new assignments.
The cases from abroad generally have not required the type of contact tracing that occurred on Wednesday because of strict procedures trequiring passengers to wear face masks and to maintain a safe distance from others.
Everybody also must be tested upon arrival and undergo a two-week quarantine before being released only after receiving negative results on a second coronavirus test.
USFK said it was still gathering facts about the Osan cases.
“Out of an abundance of caution, Osan put out a notice informing their installation to be aware of a possible COVID positive,” spokesman Col. Lee Peters said. “As per USFK policy, all personnel are instructed to wear appropriate (personal protective equipment) so any contact tracing will be minimized.”
While declining to provide a number, he said it was “not a mass infection and would be limited” since the people involved had “undergone the tests at both ends.”
“We’re still investigating the circumstances related this incident,” he said.
Osan Air Base asked people who had been to the affected facilities at specified hours — Starbucks from 12:15-1 p.m., the housing office from 1:45-2 p.m., as well as anybody who sat in booths at the main food court from 3-3:30 p.m. — to self-quarantine and contact their leadership.
Air Forces personnel usually are processed through Osan, while soldiers are bused to Camp Humphreys, the main U.S. base on the divided peninsula.
Most USFK coronavirus patients have recovered — but five active-duty service members are still positive, the command said earlier Wednesday.
“Despite the confirmed cases, USFK remains at a high level of readiness,” it added.