An airman with the 18th Medical Group seals a coronavirus test sample at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, March 20, 2020.

An airman with the 18th Medical Group seals a coronavirus test sample at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, March 20, 2020. (Rhett Isbell/U.S. Air Force)

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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The long Columbus Day weekend passed quietly on the coronavirus front for the U.S. military in Japan, which confirmed one new infection.

An employee of the arts and crafts shop at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa has tested positive, according to a Saturday post on the installation’s Facebook page.

A public health official from Okinawan prefecture on Friday identified the employee as a man in his 50s from Okinawa city. The prefecture on Tuesday reported a second Kadena employee, a man in his 40s from Naha city, had tested positive but provided no further information. The base had yet to announce that case as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“We are still conducting the tracing on both patients and we cannot tell if these two are related,” the prefectural official said Tuesday.

Government officials in Japan often speak on condition of anonymity as a condition of their employment.

The arts and crafts employee worked in an area off-limits to customers and had no customer interactions, according to Kadena. Contact tracing identified an unspecified number of close contacts and they were quarantined.

Monday at Kadena, 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Joel Carey extended until Dec. 31 a public health emergency that allows him to maintain protective restrictions and apply them to civilian employees, contractors and family members, as well as service members, according to a Facebook post by the base.

“Over the past week, Okinawa has seen a higher per capita rate of new COVID-19 infections compared to other prefectures in Japan,” according to the Kadena post, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. That underscores “the importance of following current restrictions while also sticking to the basics: maintaining proper hygiene, social distancing and wearing a cloth face mask when social distancing is not possible.”

The prefecture reported two deaths from coronavirus complications over the weekend and 73 new infections between Friday and Monday, according to the prefectural website. Another 15 people tested positive Tuesday, according to the public health official.

Okinawa has reported 49 deaths and 2,770 cases during the pandemic.

At Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan, commander Capt. David Adams on Saturday relaxed a tight set of movement restrictions imposed Wednesday when five new, locally transmitted coronavirus cases appeared on base.

Most new cases within the U.S. military in Japan occur in newly arrived personnel or travelers returning from abroad. Adams previously expected the restrictions to last through the weekend.

“After consulting with our medical officers, I feel confident that we have successfully captured the entirety of the cluster and that there is no longer a threat of community spread,” he wrote Saturday on Facebook. Twitter: @JosephDitzler Twitter: @AyaIchihashi

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Joseph Ditzler is a Marine Corps veteran and the Pacific editor for Stars and Stripes. He’s a native of Pennsylvania and has written for newspapers and websites in Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. He studied journalism at Penn State and international relations at the University of Oklahoma.

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