March 13, 2020 —
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.
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.
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.
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.