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Two Okinawa-based US airmen test positive for coronavirus, 18th Wing commander says

An airman from the 18th Medical Group at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa screens a driver for coronavirus in this undated photo posted to the base’s official Facebook page Thursday, March 26, 2020.

MANDY FOSTER/U.S. AIR FORCE

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 28, 2020

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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Air Force’s 18th Wing announced Saturday that two airmen assigned to Kadena Air Base have tested positive for coronavirus, making them the first U.S. service members on Okinawa known to be infected with the disease. 

Both airmen, who are not part of the same unit, recently returned from Europe, 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Joel Carey said in a video posted to Facebook at 11 p.m. Saturday. Their movements had been restricted for 15 days after returning to Okinawa and their symptoms developed during that period. 

"Our 18th Medical Group professionals are in contact with these individuals daily to monitor their symptoms, and the close contacts identified with each of these cases have been put in restriction of movement status and our medical team will continue to monitor them closely as well," he said.

"Our joint medical community and Kadena leadership have spent the last month preparing for this situation and we have a well trained and ready group of professionals,” he added. “... Our healthcare professionals are working around the clock to ensure the best care possible for these individuals."

Carey implored the Kadena community to remain calm and stay focused, to adhere to base directives and observe good personal hygiene. He said the wing had implemented preemptive measures to protect against further spread of the virus.

"For some of you, this is an incredibly stressful time," he said. "I ask for your continued cooperation as we move through this global health crisis as a community."

The announcement was made a day after the U.S. military confirmed three new coronavirus cases on mainland Japan, including two sailors at Yokosuka Naval Base and the dependent of a soldier assigned to Camp Zama. On Thursday, another Yokosuka-based sailor became the first American service member to test positive for the virus in Japan.

On Friday, Carey barred non-mission essential guests from the base, prohibited 18th Wing personnel from using mass transit, put an end to off-island leave and restricted airmen from off-base dine-in restaurants, bars, clubs, gyms and movie theaters. 

Kadena's Risner Fitness Center remained open.

Other U.S. service branches in Japan enacted similar policies this week as well. 

"The only way to get through this challenging time is by helping one another," Carey said in the video. "I ask that you please continue to take care of one another and we need to keep doing our part as a community to prevent the further spread of [coronavirus]."

burke.matt@stripes.com
Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1

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