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U.S. Created 'Protective Bubbles' Around Bases in South Korea, General Says

By David Vergun DOD News

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Nine people working on U.S. bases in South Korea — service members, family members and contractors — have been diagnosed with COVID-19, said the top U.S. general there.

Army Gen. Robert B. ''Abe'' Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told Pentagon reporters that all are recovering. He updated reporters by telephone on USFK's response to the coronavirus.

People in chemical suits spray disinfectant.
Disinfecting Operation
U.S. Army and South Korean soldiers disinfect a COVID-19-infected area during a joint disinfecting operation in Daegu, South Korea, March 13, 2020.
Photo By: Army Spc. Hayden Hallman
VIRIN: 200313-A-NY675-1005

Out of about 58,000 people affiliated with USFK, that's a pretty low number, he said.

The reason the numbers aren't higher relative to the local population in some areas of the country is because of a number of strict control measures. ''We like to refer to [them] as protective bubbles around our installations,'' Abrams said. They include:

  • Limiting off-post excursions to necessary duties only
  • Making bars, clubs, large social gatherings, eat-in dining and theaters off limits
  • Minimizing public transportation
  • Enhancing screening procedures — including temperature checks — for those authorized to enter installations
  • Closing Defense Department schools across South Korea
  • Observing social distancing at meetings and maximizing video teleconferencing and telework
  • Mandating strict hygiene and monitoring procedures
  • Disinfecting chairs and other items frequently touched

He also said test kits are readily available for anyone who needs testing.

A military service member wearing a surgical mask holds a device to take the temperature of a family.
Temperature Screening
An Army medical professional takes the temperature of a recent arrival as part of screening for COVID-19 at Osan Air Base, South Korea, March 13, 2020.
Photo By: Army Pfc. Jillian Hix
VIRIN: 160712-A-VL209-0003
Soldier wearing gloves and a surgical mask stops vehicles at a checkpoint.
Checkpoint Screening
A soldier waits to conduct a screening at one of U.S. Army Garrison Camp Humphreys gates in South Korea, Feb. 27, 2020. COVID-19 screening procedures are being conducted at all U.S. Army installations in South Korea.
Photo By: Army Pfc. Kang, Min-jin
VIRIN: 200227-A-LO365-380

Abrams praised South Korean health care workers for their cooperative efforts with USFK. ''I could not have asked for a better partner,'' he said.

The general observed that South Korean people have also taken extraordinary measures and have sacrificed much.

''Our number one priority is to protect the force,'' he said, adding that that includes all service members, families, contractors, Korean employees and anyone affiliated with USFK.

The other priority of USFK, he said, is being ready to fight, should that be necessary.

Two men wearing gloves and surgical masks over their noses and mouths look into the distance.
Medical Response
Medical personnel direct Marines with 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, as they arrive at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, on Feb. 28, 2020. When they returned from South Korea, the Marines were screened for COVID-19.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Josue Marquez
VIRIN: 200228-M-IN847-0005

Training continues, with U.S. troops flying, shooting and maneuvering, he said, all while taking precautions.

Leaders throughout the installations have had open and transparent communications with their personnel on a daily basis, Abrams said.

Morale among everyone is high despite being in a tough situation and making sacrifices, he concluded.