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Col. Ray Gerber, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 20, 2021.

Col. Ray Gerber, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 20, 2021. (Destiny Dempsey/U.S. Marine Corps)

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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The number of new cases of COVID-19 on Okinawa has broken pandemic records for three consecutive days and is overwhelming hospitals there, according to the prefecture’s deputy governor.

COVID-19 cases reached a record one-day high of 3,436 on Tuesday, replacing the previous high of 2,720 cases on May 11 during the omicron wave, according to the prefectural Department of Public Health and Medical Care.

Tuesday’s number exceeded 3,500 cases on Wednesday and Thursday. As of Thursday, 60.6% of hospital beds on Okinawa are occupied.

Emergency medical services on Okinawa are at a crisis point; many health care workers are infected with COVID-19 and patients with mild symptoms are flocking to the hospitals, Takekuni Ikeda, the deputy governor, said at a news conference Thursday.

“If the number keeps exceeding 3,000 every day, we might have to place some restrictions,” he said.

He did not say when or under what conditions the prefecture would act further. Okinawa is already under a public health alert since July 11. The prefecture will monitor the situation and consult public health experts first, Ikeda said.

He said the public must thoroughly observe preventative measures and seek emergency medical care only when necessary.

The coronavirus infection alert is in place until July 24 to ease demand for hospital beds. The public is expected to wear masks and properly ventilate areas where people gather, refrain from gathering in confined spaces for extended periods, avoid high-risk populations if exhibiting symptoms and get vaccinated.

The alert applies to the main island of Okinawa and the Yaeyama Islands, including Ishigaki, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said July 11 in Naha.

“Please take preventive measures … and be mindful not to get infected and not to infect others,” Tamaki said. “Let’s work together to prevent the spread of infection in this period before the summer break comes.”

U.S. service members, defense civilians and their families should observe the prefectural alert, according to a post on the Joint COVID-19 Response Center’s Facebook page.

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Mari Higa is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in 2021. She previously worked as a research consultant and translator. She studied sociology at the University of Birmingham and Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences.
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