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A sign encourages gymgoers to practice social distancing at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, April 7, 2020.
A sign encourages gymgoers to practice social distancing at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, April 7, 2020. (Lauren Brune/U.S. Marine Corps)

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MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Three new coronavirus cases turned to five total Tuesday after a day and a night of contact tracing at this Marine base in western Japan.

Health authorities discovered two additional infections after tracing the contacts of three people who tested positive Monday, according to an air station news release Tuesday. All five patients are in isolation, and large-scale testing is currently underway, it stated.

An unspecified number of Marines and their families were in lockdown in their homes and in a barracks beginning Monday while medical authorities undertook contact tracing, according to base commander Col. Lance Lewis.

At least one unit was affected along with individuals who had contact with members of that unit, according to a base news release and a Facebook post by Lewis on Monday night. The affected unit was not identified.

The three original cases arose from the air station’s existing population, not from new arrivals, according to a news release late Monday. The infected individuals were not in quarantine or otherwise isolated when they tested positive, Lewis wrote Monday night.

“This is the update we all suspected might eventually come but hoped that it never would,” he said. “We have been planning for this moment since March and feel confident and readily equipped to contain and control the event.”

Most new coronavirus cases among the U.S. military in Japan are newcomers from the United States or travelers returning from abroad who test positive in quarantine.

The base is home to Marine Aircraft Group 12, five squadrons, and the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 5, which is deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, along with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Fleet Wing 31.

Members of the affected unit were ordered to shelter in place until Navy medical technicians from the Branch Health Clinic completed contact tracing, Lewis said. He said “unexpected and unplanned closures to some base services” may result from tracing.

“We will know more as the night goes on,” he wrote, “and you will be notified about any closures as we closely follow policy and procedure.”

Tracing was complete Tuesday, according to the base. No closures were announced.

Lewis wrote that all military movements, including permanent-change-of-station moves and flights by the Navy Air Logistics Office, will continue as scheduled.

Defense Department schools at Iwakuni were open Tuesday, except for students affected by the shelter-in-place order. A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense Education Activity in Japan could not be reached Tuesday morning.

The base last reported one new coronavirus case on Oct. 30.

Lewis encouraged residents to use this incident to re-evaluate their own health and disease prevention habits.

“Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Maintain social distancing. Stay in the ‘green’ liberty areas and avoid crowds,” he wrote on Facebook. “All of these protective measures combined give you and our entire community a layered defense against COVID. Let us handle this scenario like we have every other: #IwakuniStrong.” Twitter: @bolingerj2004


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