There are still nine troops, family members, civilians and other Defense Department-affiliated personnel being treated for coronavirus in South Korea , U.S. Forces Korea’s commanders told reporters Friday, with 55 under self-quarantine, down from 77 several weeks ago.
The command sprung into action in late January, as cases multiplied exponentially in the city of Daegu near four Army posts. Recommendations and precautions have involved self-isolation and social distancing, along testing personnel in the early days of the outbreaks, Army Gen. Robert Abrams said in a video briefing from Camp Humphreys.
“Out of a population of 58,000 people that touches U.S. forces daily, that’s a pretty low number,” Abrams said.
The diagnosed number includes one service member, four dependents and four South Korean civilian employees.
Abrams applauded his command’s response and its role countering the spread, even as Daegu’s outbreak has grown into the thousands.
“We’ve all embraced strict proper hygiene procedures that all of you by now have heard a hundred times. But, believe me, they work,” he said.
In the U.S., numbers have been multiplying by the day, with clusters in the Seattle area, California, New York City, Georgia, Florida and more.
The CDC is reporting about 1,200 cases nationwide, more than twice as many as had been reported a week earlier.
“I’ve told everyone, if you want to kill this virus, it requires a fundamental change in lifestyle,” Abrams said. He added he took an afternoon off when he felt ill in February, but that his symptoms didn’t persist and he has not been tested.
To date, USFK has tested 145 members of its community, according to Abrams, with a mix of the test offered by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an in-house system that arrived to his command two weeks ago.
“In many cases, we know that they were taking USFK samples and pushing them up higher in the queue to make sure we got the results back,” he said of South Korean public health officials.
A Food and Drug Administration-approved test, required for U.S. citizens assigned to USFK, arrived at Camp Humphreys on March 3 and went operational four days later, Abrams said.
Today, he added, more than 189,000 South Koreans have been tested for coronavirus, and the effort has swelled from 5,000 tests a day three weeks ago to 18,000 today.
“We can get as many tested as necessary,” he said, including drive-in testing centers for South Korean nationals.
Wait and see
As USFK works to contain the spread of the virus, DoD announced on Wednesday a two-month hold on all permanent change-of-station or temporary duty travel in or out of overseas hotspots, grounding hundreds of troops and families who who had been planning international travel.
Many of them are stuck in places like Korea, Italy and Germany after having packed up and shipped their personal items and moved out of their housing.
Per a memo issued Wednesday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, local commanders are authorized to distribute emergency funds, per diems and other relief to help those troops cover their housing and other expenses while they wait for the freeze to lift on May 12.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.