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Twenty-two US troops test positive for coronavirus after flying to South Korea from States

A Patriot Express flight brings U.S. troops and their families to Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 14, 2020.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 13, 2020

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SEOUL, South Korea — Nearly two dozen American troops tested positive for the coronavirus after flying to South Korea from the United States, the military said Tuesday, raising the total number of cases affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea to 225.

The announcement came as South Korea has seen a decline in locally transmitted cases but remains concerned about cluster outbreaks and infected travelers from abroad.

Eighteen of the infected service members arrived at Osan Air Base on government-chartered flights on Sept. 25 and Oct. 4, 5, 7 and 9, according to a press release.

The others landed at Incheon International Airport on commercial flights on Sept. 27 and Oct. 5, 8 and 9, it said.

The influx occurred despite an Army decision in August to start requiring soldiers and family members to test negative for the respiratory virus before boarding international flights in a bid to contain the virus.

It’s unclear which branches of service the recent cases belonged to, and USFK officials have stressed that they can only control what happens after the troops arrive.

The command has insisted that the patients pose no direct threat to the broader community because they must undergo a strict testing and a two-week quarantine that begins as soon as they arrive on the divided peninsula.

“None of the new arrivals have interacted with anyone residing within USFK installations or the local community,” the press release said.

Half of the announced patients tested positive on their first coronavirus test, which is required for all arrivals to South Korea, while the other half received positive results on a test required for them to exit quarantine.

USFK spokesman Col. Lee Peters said the 22 cases didn’t signal a spike because they were spread out over several days during a two-week timespan. He also noted that the number was boosted by the second test, saying those positives would have been missed by others.

“That’s what makes us different from everybody else is we do a second test in order for you to exit quarantine. Nobody else does that,” Peters said in a telephone interview.

All 22 were transferred to isolation facilities designated for coronavirus patients on Camp Humphreys as well as Osan and Kunsan air bases, USFK said.

Affected transportation assets and quarantine facilities have been thoroughly cleaned, but U.S. health authorities determined the need for contact tracing was limited since all travelers to South Korea must be tested and quarantined.

Most of the cases affiliated with USFK have been troops traveling to South Korea for new assignments or returning from trips abroad. Some two dozen, including three soldiers, contracted the virus in the country.

South Korea, meanwhile, reported its first triple digit increase in cases in days, but only 69 of those were locally transmitted.

The others were imported from abroad, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel