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Street Beat performs during a festival at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, May 19, 2022.  U.S. Forces Korea did away with its mask policy in April but allowed garrison commanders the option to require them in high-traffic areas. 

Street Beat performs during a festival at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, May 19, 2022. U.S. Forces Korea did away with its mask policy in April but allowed garrison commanders the option to require them in high-traffic areas.  (Akeen Campbell/U.S. Air Force)

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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea lowered the health protection condition for its troops on Thursday as COVID-19 infection rates continue to decline across South Korea.

The command is now at Alpha, one level above an everyday health condition, and allowed its personnel, regardless of their vaccination status, to patronize all off-base businesses, according to a USFK news release Thursday.

“USFK will continue to monitor the current COVID-19 situation within USFK and South Korea - while balancing mission readiness requirements with the health and well-being of our affiliated community - and will make additional adjustments regarding HPCON levels to protect our mission and community,” the release stated.

The command last lowered its health condition on April 21 from Bravo Plus to Bravo, which permitted fully vaccinated personnel to visit local businesses. The command considers a person fully vaccinated 14 days after completing a vaccination series approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

No changes were made to USFK’s mask policy. The command did away with its policy on April 25 but allowed garrison commanders the option to require masks in high-traffic areas on their installations. The Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital at Camp Humphreys, for example, requires visitors to wear masks.

USFK personnel are still required to adhere to local social distancing directives outside of military bases. South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare rescinded its outdoor mask mandate in May but still requires them indoors. People in groups of 50 or more, such as a sporting event, are also required to wear masks.

USFK reported 59 infections in the week ending Monday. The command’s weekly case counts are steadily declining. From May 17 to 23, USFK reported 104 cases; in the week prior that that, the command counted 141 cases. USFK’s weekly case numbers peaked at a pandemic high of 1,599 cases between Jan. 4 and 10.

Infections across South Korea have also dipped in recent weeks. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency counted 12,542 cases on Thursday, down from a daily record of 621,187 on March 1.

South Korea reached four-month low of 6,139 new cases on Sunday, according to the KDCA report on Monday.

Nearly 88% of South Koreans have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday and almost 65% received a booster shot.

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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