The first U.S. service member to test positive for the novel coronavirus on Feb. 26 has been declared virus-free by military medical doctors after spending 49 days in isolation, according to U.S. officials in South Korea, where the soldier is stationed.
The American was cleared from isolation after having no symptoms for a full week, being fever-free without the use of medications and successfully passing two consecutive COVID-19 tests with negative results at least 24 hours apart, according to a U.S. Forces Korea statement on Thursday.
The soldier was previously identified as a 23-year-old male stationed at Camp Carroll, about 15 miles from the city of Daegu. Prior to testing positive, the soldier visited nearby Camp Walker on Feb. 24. He had also been on Camp Carroll between Feb. 21-25.
The soldier is now out of isolation and has returned to his off-base residence outside Camp Carroll. The soldier’s chain of command has not authorized him to return to duty yet, however, U.S. Forces Korea said.
Ten more American dependents and Korean nationals working for U.S. Forces Korea have also been declared COVID-19 virus-free since March 15. Only two active duty service members have tested positive for COVID-19 on the Korean peninsula so far.
An off-limits order for the city of Daegu was lifted Wednesday. The urban area is no longer considered a hot spot for the virus, according to a Twitter announcement by U.S. Forces Korea.
South Korea has been praised for its ability to contain the new coronavirus by instituting drive-through test sites, temperature checks and sanitation measures early on in the pandemic. After reaching a peak of about 900 new COVID-19 cases per day in late February, the rates have now dropped to roughly 22 per day this week.
U.S. Forces Korea has also been largely praised for its aggressive handling of the pandemic, which mirrored the efforts of South Korean officials. U.S. and Korean troops were frequently photographed during joint disinfecting operations, gearing up with one another to sanitize public areas in Daegu during the peak of the virus’ spread.
The Pentagon’s latest tally reported more than 5,000 total COVID-19 cases among personnel, about 2,800 of which are service members. Of those, 85 were hospitalized as of Wednesday and about 446 have recovered.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.