A widow of a retired soldier living in Daegu, South Korea, has contracted the coronavirus, prompting U.S. Forces Korea to raise the risk level for the command from moderate to high.
The widow is the first and so far the only case of an individual with ties to USFK contracting the virus, and no service members affiliated with command have tested positive for the virus yet, USFK said.
USFK commander commander Army Gen. Robert Abrams clarified that the patient was the widow of a retired soldier, amid media reports that a family member of a USFK soldier had tested positive for the virus.
“To be clear, this is a 60+ year old widow of a retired soldier,” Abrams tweeted. “We were saddened to hear of her of contracting the virus. We pray for her recovery.”
According to USFK, the woman is 61 and visited Camp Walker’s Post Exchange in Daegu on Feb. 12 and Feb. 15, prompting authorities to assess if others who may have come in contact with her are at risk.
“Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” USFK said in a statement Monday. “USFK encourages all personnel to continue to practice strict proper hygiene procedures as the best ways to prevent the spread of viruses and protect the USFK population.”
As of Feb. 23, South Korea has had more than 600 confirmed cases of coronavirus. More than 250 of those cases are new and were confirmed over the weekend, according to the World Health Organization.
South Korea President Moon Jae-in moved updated the anti-virus alert level to “Red” over the weekend, providing South Korean authorities the ability to close schools and cut back on public transportation services, among other measures. According to the Associated Press, a “Red” alert level has not been issued in 10 years.
U.S. Army Garrison Daegu announced Sunday that USFK, along with the Department of Defense Education Activity, had determined schools will remain out of session through Feb. 28.
The move comes after U.S. Army Garrison Daegu announced last week that schools on base would be closed on Feb. 20, and that all troop’s non-essential travel to and from Daegu would stop. The command said updates would follow daily.
“We must protect the force and our community by maintaining our “Fight Tonight” readiness,” Abrams said in a statement.
The military is also reportedly stepping up precautionary measures in other areas of Asia. For example, the Navy’s 7th Fleet based out of Yokosuka, Japan, is starting to conduct checks for all crew members, contractors, visitors and others before infiltrating 7th Fleet units.
“We have developed plans to screen all personnel including but not limited to crew, visitors, civilians, contractors, and new check-ins gaining access to C7F units and platforms,” 7th Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said in an email to Military Times.
Mommsen said there are no signs that any personnel with the 7th Fleet have contracted the virus, but noted the screenings are designed to cut down the risk of the virus impacting forces.
“We will continue to mitigate the risk to force while continuing to support the mission in support of our operational strategy and in accordance with Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery guidance,” Mommsen said.
Additionally, Stars and Stripes reports that more medical personnel and supplies will be available during Indo-Pacific Command’s Cobra Gold exercise that kicks off on Tuesday in Thailand to prevent the virus from spreading.
INDOPACOM acknowledged to Military Times that those participating in the exercise are working with the Royal Thai Armed Forces counterparts to take precautions to promote safety during Cobra Gold. The Cobra Gold 2020 Combined-Joint Information Bureau did not immediately provide specifics on the precautionary steps when contacted by Military Times.
Globally, there are nearly 79,000 confirmed cases of the virus and nearly 2,500 deaths stemming from the illness.
The virus has spread to 28 different countries, including the U.S. A total of 35 individuals within the U.S. have contracted the virus, per the WHO.