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Two people linked to US Forces Korea test positive for coronavirus after quarantine

U.S. and South Korea flags are displayed together outside Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Monday, March 16, 2020.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 14, 2020

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SEOUL, South Korea Two people linked to U.S. Forces Korea have tested positive for coronavirus even though they showed no symptoms and had been in quarantine for about two weeks, the military said Tuesday.

The cases, which raised USFK’s total to 24, marked a new phase in the military’s efforts to contain the virus, requiring people who were quarantined after coming into close contact with someone confirmed to have coronavirus, to be tested before being allowed to leave.

An American contractor who had been in quarantine in a barracks at Camp Humphreys since April 1 because of his close contact with an infected colleague received positive results after he was tested for the virus as part of the exit process, officials said Tuesday.

He has now been transferred to a “barracks designated for isolation” on the Army garrison, according to USFK.

The second patient was the wife of a USFK contractor who had tested positive. She last visited Camp Humphreys on March 29 and has been in quarantine at her off-post residence since March 30, USFK said.

The woman tested negative when she first went into quarantine but was confirmed to have the virus in a second test that was administered as part of the exit process, officials said. She will remain in isolation at her residence for two more weeks.

Contact tracing and thorough cleaning were not required in either case because of their quarantine status, according to the press release.

The spate of cases at Camp Humphreys, which is the largest overseas U.S. military base, began on March 24 when a contractor who worked at Eighth Army headquarters tested positive.

The garrison, which has now been linked to half of USFK’s 24 cases, has been partially locked down to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Nonessential personnel have been ordered to stay home as much as possible and movement on base has been restricted, with taxi and bus traffic halted.

Only two active-duty service members have tested positive. The others were contractors, military dependents, and other U.S. and South Korean civilian employees.

A USFK spokesman said both cases announced Tuesday were asymptomatic but were tested due to a new requirement imposed this weekend as part of the process to exit quarantine.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we’re now testing everybody who’s been in direct contact with another patient who tested positive, before they can come out of quarantine,” Col. Lee Peters said.

"It's just another measure that USFK is putting in to prevent these quarantine individuals from going back out into the population and potentially unknowingly exposing somebody else because they were an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19," he added.

The incubation period for the coronavirus is considered to be up to two weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main symptoms include fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath.

USFK said it continues to share information and discuss response measures with South Korean health authorities.

Despite the enhanced restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus, the military said it remains “at a high level of readiness” and maintains “a robust combined defense posture” to protect South Korea.

More than 28,500 U.S. service members are stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North after their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

 

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