- Officials have closed schools, childcare centers and other facilities on U.S. military bases.
- One person associated with the military in Daegu, South Korea, has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- The mood among many families is anxious and uneasy.
U.S. military families stationed in South Korea and Italy are keeping a wary eye on outbreaks of coronavirus in nearby towns, as base officials shut down schools and child care centers, restrict travel and warn anyone feeling ill to seek medical attention.
“I am worried due to its contagiousness,” military spouse Beth Magee told weather.com in an email Tuesday. “I don’t know how to explain it. I almost feel like we are just waiting to get sick.”
Magee lives with her active duty husband and their 14-year-old son on Camp Humphreys, a U.S. Army base about 40 miles south of Seoul, South Korea. Large overseas bases like Humphreys are self-contained mini-Americas, with their own schools, grocery stores, daycare centers, restaurants, banks, churches, post offices and medical facilities, all behind heavily guarded entrance gates.
Humphreys is considered the biggest U.S. military base overseas, with about 27,000 servicemembers, civilian employees and family members.
“The mood is anxious,” Magee said. “People are gobbling up any piece of information they can find, be it rumor or fact.”
More than 975 people in South Korea had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, as of Tuesday afternoon, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University. Ten people have died.
One person connected to the U.S. military was confirmed to have COVID-19 – a 61-year-old family member living in Daegu, the city at the epicenter of the Korean outbreak and home to several smaller Army bases.
Military officials have dubbed the patient “Case #1.” They tracked locations she visited on base prior to Monday, when her diagnosis was announced, and have advised anyone who may have come into contact with the woman to self-quarantine in their homes.
Schools and childcare centers on Camp Humphreys and Daegu are closed until at least the end of the week and lessons are being taught online, according to U.S. Army Garrison Daegu, the headquarters that overseas military facilities in the area.
Soldiers standing guard at base gates were wearing face masks and screening people for COVID-19 symptoms on Monday, and only those with official business on the base were being allowed to enter, according to Stars & Stripes. Soldiers were told to limit non-essential travel off the base.
Sunday church services were held online, and base officials updated servicemembers and families via video instead of the town hall meetings that are often held to disseminate information.
“Luckily, I believe the command leadership has done a fantastic job at addressing concerns, dispelling the rumors and informing us on what’s being done. I see firsthand the hours being put into making sure the soldiers and families are safe,” Magee said.
“Like I stated, I’m nervous, but I have a sense of security living on the post. It may be naive of me, but I feel as though someone is looking out for me.”
U.S. military officials are also taking precautions in Italy, where several towns have been quarantined, 322 people have tested positive for the virus and 10 have died. Schools, childcare centers, churches, gyms and movie theaters on bases in the Vicenza area are all closed, U.S. Army Garrison Italy leaders said in a video posted to Facebook.
“The situation is not going to cure itself overnight,” Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier said. “In fact, it could get worse before it gets better.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no cases of COVID-19 in the region where the bases are located, but Cloutier said the military was following the lead of local municipalities in closing facilities.
American Rebecca Bring, who’s married to a U.S. civilian employee in Vicenza, said many military families are worried about the coronavirus. Her daughter, who is in college in the U.S., won’t be able to visit for spring break due to the outbreak.
“I’m frustrated that this deadly virus continues to be spread,” Bring said in an email to weather.com on Tuesday.
Another military spouse in the Vicenza area, Bevin Landrum, also said in an email that there was a sense of “uneasiness” among Americans stationed in the region.
“Many families have a servicemember gone for training, so they are handling this by themselves. School and activity closures have made it a bit more stressful,” Landrum said.
“Every precaution is being taken.”
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