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U.S. and South Korea troops take part in a ruck march at Camp Casey, South Korea, April 22, 2022.

U.S. and South Korea troops take part in a ruck march at Camp Casey, South Korea, April 22, 2022. (Christopher Cameron/U.S. Army)

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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The U.S. military in South Korea dropped its mask mandate Monday on its installations as cases of COVID-19 continue to decline throughout the country.

Masks are no longer required on any U.S. installation or facility, although individual commanders may mandate them in high-traffic indoor areas, such as gyms, commissaries, libraries and similar facilities, according to an announcement by U.S. Forces Korea on its website.

USFK personnel are advised to consult their garrisons for exceptions to the updated policy.

Anyone affiliated with the U.S. military must still wear a mask while outside U.S. installations. South Korea requires people to wear face masks while outdoors and indoors in public.

Defense Department schools on U.S. bases in South Korea are also doing away with the mask requirement starting Wednesday, although students may choose to wear masks at school or on school buses, according to memos from individual school principals.

At Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. military base overseas, masks will still be required for children age 2 and older and staff at the Col. Dean Hess Child Development Center, Army Col. Seth Graves, the base garrison commander, said in a Facebook video. Masks will also be required at the base's medical and dental facilities.

USFK reported 252 new COVID-19 infections for the seven-day period ending Monday, the fourth straight week of falling case numbers. The command counted 326 cases between April 12 and 18. It reached a weekly pandemic high of 1,599 cases between Jan. 4 and 10.

“USFK will continue to monitor and assess the COVID-19 environment and will make additional adjustments to protect the force and our mission,” said an April 19 USFK news release.

South Korea reported 80,361 new cases on Monday and 34,370 on Sunday, according to daily updates from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The recent figures represent a significant drop from an all-time high of 621,187 daily cases on March 17 and the monthly one-day high, thus far, of 286,294 cases on April 5.

The majority of Monday’s new cases, 19,363, originated in Gyeonggi province, home of Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base. Seoul, the capital city, counted the second-highest number of infections, 13,560.

USFK, responsible for roughly 28,500 troops in South Korea, lowered its health protection condition from Bravo-plus to Bravo on Thursday, allowing its fully vaccinated population to visit bars, clubs, adults-only businesses, saunas and karaoke bars. An individual is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after completing a series of vaccinations approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Those changes come amid loosened social distancing restrictions from the South Korean government. On April 18, South Korea revoked its business curfew, a 10-person cap on gatherings and the seven-day quarantine for people who test positive for COVID-19.

Nearly 88% of the country’s 51 million people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and about 65% received a vaccine booster shot, according to a KDCA update on Tuesday.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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