22 US soldiers tested positive for coronavirus after flying to South Korea from the United States
SEOUL, South Korea – Nearly two dozen U.S. soldiers have tested positive for the coronavirus after flying to South Korea from the United States, the military said on Tuesday, bringing the total number of affiliated cases to 225 to Korean American forces.
The announcement came as South Korea has seen a drop in locally transmitted cases, but remains concerned about cluster outbreaks and infected travelers from overseas.
Eighteen of the infected soldiers arrived at Osan Air Base on government-chartered flights on September 25 and October 4, 5, 7 and 9, according to a press release.
The others landed at Incheon International Airport on commercial flights on September 27 and October 5, 8 and 9, he said.
The influx occurred despite a Army decision in August to begin requiring soldiers and their family members to test negative for the respiratory virus before boarding international flights in a bid to contain the virus.
It is unclear to which branches of service the recent cases fell, and USFK officials have stressed they cannot control what happens after troops arrive.
The command insisted that the patients pose no direct threat to the wider community, as they must undergo strict testing and a two-week quarantine that begins upon arrival on the divided peninsula.
“None of the newcomers interacted with anyone residing at USFK facilities or in the local community,” the press release said.
Half of the reported patients tested positive on their first coronavirus test, which is required for all arrivals to South Korea, while the other half received positive results on a test required to come out of quarantine.
USFK spokesperson Col. Lee Peters said the 22 cases were not reporting a peak because they spanned several days over a two-week period. He also noted that the number was increased by the second test, saying those positive results would have been missed by others.
“That’s what sets us apart from the rest is that we do a second test to get you out of quarantine. No one else does,” Peters said in a phone interview.
The affected transportation and quarantine facilities were thoroughly cleaned, but U.S. health officials determined the need for contact tracing was limited as all travelers in South Korea must be tested and quarantined.
Most of the USFK-affiliated cases involved troops traveling to South Korea on new assignments or returning from overseas trips. About twenty, including three soldiers, contracted the virus in the country.
South Korea, meanwhile, reported its first triple-digit increase in the number of cases in days, but only 69 of them were transmitted locally.
The rest were imported from overseas, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
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