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US Forces Korea raises alert level over COVID-19 concerns

U.S. Forces Korea is ramping up its Health Protection Condition to Charlie as hundreds of new COVID-19 cases were reported in South Korea over the weekend.

HPCON Charlie means that the risk is substantial and there has been sustained community transmission. That’s one step below the highest alert level for disease outbreaks, HPCON Delta, which means that the risk is severe and there has been widespread community transmission.

USFK implemented HPCON Charlie for the greater Seoul metropolitan area and several other areas of South Korea on Saturday, but announced that HPCON Charlie would go into effect across the entire peninsula on Monday.

“I have complete confidence the ROK government and KCDC will suppress this outbreak and stop the spread,” Gen. Robert Abrams, USFK commander, said in a news release. “But we must balance the overall health, safety and protection of the force with mission accomplishment, and that means immediately raising our health protection conditions and preventive control measures now.”

“We must protect the force to protect the mission,” Abrams said.

Now, only mission-essential personnel will report to duty as others work remotely, and off-installation travel is only permitted in cases of official and necessary duties, USFK said. Exceptions require approval from an O-6 or equivalent civilian supervisor within the chain of command.

Additionally, USFK has barred groups larger than 15 people from seated dining at off-installation restaurants, bars, clubs and other social settings for all USFK-affiliated personnel.

Priority screening is available for mission essential personnel who have been to Area II(+), that is the greater Seoul metropolitan region and nine other surrounding districts.

Nearly 300 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Sunday in South Korea, CNN reported, citing the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, USFK announced Monday that five USFK service members had tested positive for COVID-19 upon their arrival in South Korea from the U.S. between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15. They are now at isolation facilities at Camp Humphreys or Osan Air Base for confirmed COVID cases.

A 23-year-old USFK soldier stationed at Camp Carroll was the very first U.S. service member to test positive for COVID-19 in February. He was declared virus-free in April after spending 49 days in isolation.

USFK has said that the command has not experienced an internal positive COVID case since April.

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