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US Forces Korea reports first local coronavirus transmissions in six months

A coronavirus specimen bag is pictured at Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 14, 2020.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 8, 2020

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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — An American soldier stationed on Camp Humphreys and a military retiree tested positive for the coronavirus in South Korea — the first local infections in six months, the military said Thursday.

The report, which raised to 203 the total number of confirmed cases affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea, came more than two weeks after the military lowered its health alert level as South Korea has tamped down a recent outbreak.

The soldier received positive results from a rapid coronavirus test late Wednesday at the military hospital on Camp Humphreys after visiting with immediate family members in the town of Yeochan, military officials said.

“The service member adhered to all USFK core tenets, remained within HPCON Bravo areas during his travels and immediately sought testing after learning of his family testing positive for the virus,” USFK said in a press release.

The command went to HPCON Bravo, meaning a moderate risk of contracting the coronavirus, on Sept. 23 for much of the country, although Seoul and surrounding areas remain largely off-limits for unofficial travel.

It didn’t specify the dates of the soldier’s visit, but South Korea last week celebrated Chuseok, a holiday reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

Teams deployed throughout the night to trace anybody who had come into contact with the service member and to disinfect potentially affected areas, including the base library garrison commander Col. Michael Tremblay said separately.

A number of soldiers and other people were quarantined, and the affected service member was placed in an isolation facility outfitted for coronavirus patients on Camp Humphreys.

The announcement came hours after Osan Air Base announced that an individual who had tested positive for the virus had visited facilities on the installation.

USFK said that patient was a retiree who lives in Seoul and has access to all U.S. military installations.

He last visited Camp Humphreys on Sept. 29 before becoming contagious and last visited Osan Air Base and Yongsan Garrison on Monday, according to the press release.

The retiree is in isolation at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Seoul, it said, adding that facilities visited by the patient on Yongsan and Osan were being thoroughly cleaned.

USFK and South Korean health authorities are conducting contact tracing to determine whether anybody else or other locations may have been exposed.

USFK has had a spike in the number of service members and others testing positive after traveling to South Korea from the United States.

The latest cases were the first to be contracted locally since mid-April.

“Despite the two confirmed cases, USFK remains at a high level of readiness with less than 1% of its force currently confirmed positive with COVID-19,” the command said, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, meanwhile, reported 69 new cases on Thursday for a total of 24,422, with 427 deaths.

Stars and Stripes reporter Matthew Keeler contributed to this report.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel