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American soldier stationed in South Korea first service member to test positive for coronavirus

A U.S. soldier stationed in South Korea became the first service member to test positive for the coronavirus — a day after the widow of a retired soldier living in Daegu, South Korea, contracted the virus, according to U.S. Forces Korea.

The soldier, who is 23 years old and is stationed at Camp Carroll near Daegu, visited Camp Carroll between Feb. 21-25, and neighboring Camp Walker on Feb. 24. He is currently being quarantined at his home off base, according to the command.

“KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” USFK said in a news release Feb. 25.

“USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” USFK said.

In this Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 photo, a U.S. military policeman and South Korean security person check visitors at the U.S. Army base Camp Walker, in Daegu, South Korea. (Kim Hyun-tae/Yonhap via AP)
In this Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 photo, a U.S. military policeman and South Korean security person check visitors at the U.S. Army base Camp Walker, in Daegu, South Korea. (Kim Hyun-tae/Yonhap via AP)

On Monday, USFK announced that a 61-year-old widow of a retired soldier had contracted the virus, a step that pushed USFK to update the risk level for the command from moderate to high. At the time, the widow was the only one affiliated with USFK to contract the virus, known as COVID-19.

The command said Monday the widow visited Camp Walker’s Post Exchange on Feb. 12 and Feb. 15 and that authorities were conducting contract tracing to see if anyone else had been exposed.

There are more than 80,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus around the world, including more than 77,000 within China, the World Health Organization said in an update the morning of Feb. 25.

In South Korea alone, there have been more than 1,000 confirmed cases of the virus, the South China Morning Post reports. That makes South Korea the country with the most confirmed cases outside of China.

Over the weekend, South Korea President Moon Jae-in updated the anti-virus alert level to “Red," providing South Korean authorities the ability to close schools and cut back on public transportation services, among other measures. A “Red” alert level has not been issued in 10 years, per the Associated Press.

In response to the outbreak, U.S. Army Garrison Daegu announced Sunday that USFK and the Department of Defense Education Activity had decided schools will remain out of session through Feb. 28.

Extracurricular events for DoDEA schools in Asia — including a basketball tournament and culinary arts tournament — have also been canceled, according to the Department of Defense Education Activity Pacific Region.

“This is an evolving situation and the well-being of our students and families is our top priority,” Lois Rapp, Pacific Region Director, said in a letter to parents of students in the Department of Defense Education Activity Pacific Region. “We will continue to work closely with the military commands to ensure we are taking all prudent measures to mitigate the risks to our students and employees.”

Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Europe and the Middle East have also been shut down due to the virus.

USFK’s announcement about the first service member testing positive for the virus comes hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned the virus would hit the U.S.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, told reporters Tuesday.

So far, there have been more than 50 confirmed cases within the U.S., according to the WHO.

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