Students connect with friends outside Humphreys High School at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019.

Students connect with friends outside Humphreys High School at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (Matthew Keeler/Stars and Stripes)

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SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. Defense Department schools in South Korea will tentatively reopen on April 13, after safety measures were put in place to protect students from coronavirus, officials said Friday.

The announcement underscored a growing sense of cautious optimism in South Korea, where the pace of confirmed infections has slowed in contrast to the United States, Italy and other countries that have seen sharp increases.

The eight schools on Camp Humphreys, Army Garrison Daegu and Osan Air Base closed and began online classes in late February to avoid close contact for students and staff. The respiratory virus, which first appeared late last year in China, surfaced in South Korea in the southeastern city of Daegu and spread nationwide.

Jeff Arrington, the regional superintendent for the Department of Defense Education Activity, said the agency had worked with the military to develop mitigation measures that will keep the children safe even as the coronavirus threat remains.

“The tentative reopen date is 13 April following spring break with all schools,” he said during a Facebook live update with the Camp Humphreys garrison command team.

“We feel like we have the measures in place now, but we’ve got to do the preparation,” he said, adding that the schools will reopen “assuming that nothing else changes.”

Officials stressed the need to maintain caution as the coronavirus risk remains high but expressed confidence in protective measures that have been established for the reopening.

Those include deploying soldiers to take temperatures and screen students for signs of the virus prior to boarding school buses or entering buildings.

Other guidelines include placing hand sanitizer stations in classrooms, disinfecting classrooms, hallways and locker exteriors, and developing a protocol for handling those who display coronavirus symptoms.

Soldiers already have rehearsed the new procedures and have undergone background checks since they will be around children, garrison commander Col. Michael Tremblay said.

Day care facilities will likely open beforehand in preparation for the school reopening, Tremblay said but added that no date has been set.

South Korea had one of the worst outbreaks of the virus, but the daily counts have dropped below 100 this week even as the pneumonia-like disease spreads rapidly in the United States and other countries.

Many parents who have struggled to fill the role of teacher while coping with children home all day were thrilled with the news, although some worried that it’s still too soon as restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus remain in place.

“That’s great! Gives everybody more time and makes sense to not open just to close again for spring break,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Katrina Edwards, who has a fifth grader attending school on Osan Air Base.

Arrington said the situation remained fluid as other school districts around the world now face closure because of the virus. DODEA in Japan announced Thursday its schools would close Monday until April 13.

“Korea was kind of the first to lead in taking the safety measures to put in place for our students; a lot of other schools are now coming on-line with it,” he said. “So initially it was just about Korea and what we need to do for Korea, now it’s everybody.”

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 87 new cases on Friday, raising the total to 8,652 with 94 deaths. It was the fifth day that numbers fell below 100, although there was a slight uptick the day before.

Health authorities continued to express concern about cluster infections and urged people to maintain precautions such as social distancing and avoiding crowded places. Twitter: @kimgamel

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