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(2nd LD) USFK: Two American soldiers' deaths unrelated to coronavirus

Defense 18:35 March 26, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS comment in 8th para, photo)

SEOUL, March 26 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on Thursday dismissed speculation that the recent deaths of two American soldiers stationed here could be related to the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, the military said that Spc. Clay Welch was found dead in his barracks room at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, three days earlier for unknown reasons. It came on the heels of the death of Private First Class Marissa Jo Gloria, also stationed at the camp.

Several local media raised suspicions that the cases might have something to do with COVID-19, pointing to USFK commander Gen. Robert Abrams' declaration of a "Public Health Emergency" later that day. The commander cited "the increased exposure potential of COVID-19 in proximity to USFK installations" and the U.S. government's issuance of the highest-level travel advisory as reasons for the declaration.

"The investigations are ongoing, but in both cases, COVID-19 has been ruled out. Neither case is related to the coronavirus," USFK said in a brief statement sent to Yonhap News Agency.

As of Thursday, USFK had reported a total of 10 confirmed virus cases, without a fatality. Of them, two patients were from the Pyeongtaek camp, and both are Korean workers for the U.S. military.

A military guard at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, checks the temperature of a driver to screen entrants to the compound for the novel coronavirus on Feb. 28, 2020, in the photo provided by United States Forces Korea. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In a letter sent on Wednesday to its members and their families, Abrams said it will continue its aggressive fight against the virus, calling on them to strictly adhere to related guidelines and preventive measures.

"Those who do not comply may be barred from USFK installations for a period of two years," read the letter, which was released via Twitter on Thursday.

"We cannot allow the actions of a few, who knowingly and selfishly take matters into their own hands, place the rest of the population at an unacceptable level of risk," it said.

Speaking of the emergency declared on Wednesday, the military stressed that the call is designed to ensure commanders' "necessary authorities to issue guidance," not in response to an increased threat or the spread of COVID-19 among its population.

Nationwide, South Korea has reported 9,241 cases, including 131 deaths, as of Thursday morning, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Shown in this image captured from USFK's Twitter account is the letter USFK's command team sent to members and their families on March 25, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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