(LEAD) USFK reports cluster infection at Osan base after recent no-mask dance party
(ATTN: ADDS new COVID-19 guidance in last 7 paras)
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- At least 33 American service members stationed at Osan Air Base tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Friday, after the base came under fire for a no-mask dance party in disregard of social distancing rules.
The infections were reported on Thursday and Friday at the base, some 70 kilometers south of Seoul, and contact tracing is under way, according to South Korean government officials.
A dance party took place at the base Saturday involving dozens of individuals not wearing face masks.
The incident has drawn criticism, as South Korea is experiencing the fourth wave of COVID-19 and the country has enforced the highest level of social distancing for the greater Seoul area since mid-July.
At that time, South Korea and the United States were also conducting the major combined exercise while enforcing strict antivirus rules. The nine-day exercise was concluded Thursday.
"We've been conducting virus tests on about 800 South Korean service members as a preventive step," a defense ministry official said, adding that no virus cases have been reported among them so far.
U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in a release sent to Yonhap News Agency that it is aware of the Osan cluster infections and is "continuing to gather the facts and information surrounding these positive cases."
"As a matter of policy, USFK does not publicly discuss specific details about confirmed cases but maintains an open and transparent posture with our USFK and ROK communities by announcing confirmed cases through a variety of platforms on a routine basis," it added. ROK is the acronym of South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
The U.S. military has yet to officially announce detailed information on those cases. The USFK last released official data on COVID-19 cases Tuesday, and the total caseload among its population came to 1,286.
Meanwhile, the USFK said it will abolish the on-installation mask mandate for vaccinated members if the regions where their bases are located log a lower COVID-19 incidence rate than 50 infections per 100,000 people, a criteria set by the U.S. Defense Department.
Under the new guidelines set to be implemented on Saturday, vaccinated USFK members do not have to wear masks indoors and outdoors on their bases if their districts report infection rates lower than the criteria for seven straight days.
Currently, vaccinated USFK members can stay without face masks outdoors only.
Fully vaccinated people can also visit bars, clubs and such public facilities as saunas and off-installation gyms starting Saturday, the USFK said.
If the incident rate of a region is greater than or equal to 50, all members are required to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, and travel to the region is prohibited with an exception of mission-essential and life-related activities, it added.
The new standard based on the incidence rate is in accordance with the U.S. defense department's substantial transmission threshold definition, the USFK said, adding the new guidelines will be applied to around 230 districts in South Korea.
"The USFK community must continue to follow all South Korean laws, rules and directives, including ROK social distancing levels and wearing masks when off USFK installations, and adhere to USFK core tenets both on and off-installation," USFK said in a release. ROK is the acronym of South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
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