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Thirteen more US troops test positive for coronavirus after arriving in South Korea

Pedestrians wear masks to guard against the spread of the coronavirus outside Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 20, 2020.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 26, 2020

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SEOUL, South Korea — Thirteen more American troops tested positive for the coronavirus after flying to South Korea from abroad, the military said Monday, raising the total number of cases affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea to 251.

The latest patients arrived on the divided peninsula between Oct. 9 and Oct. 22, with five receiving positive results on their initial test required after landing and eight others testing positive during their mandatory two-week quarantine, USFK said in a press release.

The command has implemented a strict testing and quarantine process for travelers to prevent the spread of the virus from the United States, where daily new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have reached record highs.

Eight of the service members arrived at Osan Air Base on government-chartered flights from the United States on Oct. 9, 12, 19, 20 and 21, while the other five arrived at Incheon International Airport on commercial international flights on Oct. 9, 17, 19 and 22, USFK said. It didn’t specify where the international flights originated.

All were transferred to an isolation facility for confirmed coronavirus patients on Camp Humphreys, the main Army base in South Korea. Transportation assets and quarantine rooms used by the patients also were thoroughly cleaned, according to the press release.

USFK said none of the new arrivals interacted with anyone on bases or in the local community except for others on the flights and those providing medical and administrative support after their arrival.

Most of the military cases have been imported from the United States; only 26 of the 251 cases were transmitted locally.

The Army has ordered that soldiers test negative for the virus before boarding international flights, but that doesn’t apply to all services and it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of troops getting infected after embarking on their travels.

A Defense Department study released earlier this month suggested that the risk of catching the virus aboard a crowded airplane on which passengers are wearing masks was very low. But the study, which used mannequins to measure aerosols on planes, didn’t include variables such as multiple infected passengers and movement in the cabin.

South Korea has had a relatively low caseload after aggressive containment measures during outbreaks early in the pandemic, then again in mid-August.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 119 cases on Monday for a total of 25,955 since Jan. 20. The death toll stood at 457.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel