- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2020

The commanding general of U.S. military forces in Korea is treating the fight against COVID-19 like it was a deadly enemy force rather than merely an illness requiring medical treatment.

In a Friday morning video conference, Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon they “operationalized” their approach to combating the coronavirus from the very beginning.

“This is not an administrative task, this is not a medical task, and it’s not a routine event. It’s an operation,” Gen. Abrams said. “We are conducting 24-7 around-the-clock operations and have been” since it was first detected.

Outside China, South Korea has been one of the hardest-hit areas from the coronavirus. As of Friday, a total of 7,979 cases have been confirmed there with 67 deaths recorded, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. Forces Korea has nine people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, including one U.S. military member and two military dependents. The rest are Korean employees and contractors. All live off base, Gen. Abrams said.

“Out of a population of 58,000 that touches U.S. Forces Korea daily, that’s a pretty low number,” he said.

To defeat this unseen enemy force, Gen. Abrams said they applied “speed and violence of action on contact” to the battlefield. That meant limiting off-post activities to official business only, stressing telework when possible as well as limiting visitor access to their installations to official-business only. Any trips outside the bases are similarly reduced.

“We placed bars, clubs, large social gatherings, eat-in dining and movie theaters as off-limits and encouraged everyone to minimize public transportation,” Gen. Abrams said.

Schools for U.S. military dependents in Korea have been temporarily suspended because of concerns from the coronavirus.

Anyone authorized to enter the U.S. military bases in Korea will first undergo what Gen. Abrams called “enhanced screening procedures” that include a temperature check and medical questioning.

“We require everyone to answer the questions honestly and truthfully,” he said. “If anyone is dishonest and we find out later, I have the authority to bar them from the installation and have done so in one case already.”

Large meetings are being curtailed at the headquarters for U.S. Forces Korea with video teleconferencing, social distancing and overflow rooms being employed to reduce gatherings as much as possible.

“We also cleaned and wiped down chairs, tables, podiums, microphones and other common and frequently used items in areas throughout the day,” Gen. Abrams said.

He called the mission, putting a “protective bubble” around the U.S. military installations in Korea. But that doesn’t mean their primary mission has taken a back seat.

“We’re still flying, we’re still training and we’re still shooting gunnery,” Gen. Abrams said. “All that is possible as long as you apply the additional mitigation measures.”

While North Korea has claimed they don’t have any confirmed cases of coronavirus or COVID-19, Gen. Abrams seriously doubts that’s actually the case.

“We’re fairly certain that they do” have coronavirus cases, he said. “Their armed forces have been on lockdown for 30 days. They didn’t fly an airplane for 24 days.”

Gen. Abrams said 145 people associated with U.S. Forces Korea to date have been tested for the coronavirus. He said there is no shortage of test kits there. While the trends are looking good, Gen. Abrams said they are not “taking their foot off the gas.”

“We’re not out of the woods yet here in Korea,” he said. “We must all remain vigilant and everyone must do their part.”

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