Amid COVID Spike, Air Force Wing in South Korea Orders Unvaccinated to Stay in Rooms

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COVID-19 test on Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea
Tech. Sgt. Emoni Thomas, 8th Medical Group education and training non-commissioned officer in charge, performs a COVID-19 test on Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Jan. 28, 2021. (Jessica Blair/U.S. Air Force)

A spike in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 at and around Kunsan Air Base in South Korea has prompted the Air Force to order unvaccinated personnel there to shelter in place, and all personnel to stay on base.

In an email Tuesday morning to Military.com, Capt. Scarlett Trujillo, head of public affairs for the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan, confirmed that wing commander Col. John Gallemore is keeping all personnel on base due to the increase in COVID cases. The restrictions were put in place July 15 and cover both vaccinated and unvaccinated personnel.

One day later, Gallemore ordered the wing's unvaccinated personnel to stay in their rooms.

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"Due to the increased number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on Kunsan Air Base and within the local area, the 8th Fighter Wing is executing enhanced COVID precautionary measures out of an abundance of caution," Trujillo said in the email.

The unofficial Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco on Sunday posted a July 18 memo from Gallemore on the shelter in place order.

During the shelter in place order, Trujillo said unvaccinated people will largely stay in their own rooms. They can leave to get food -- although only to pick up take-out meals, shop at the commissary, or to get food deliveries -- to exercise in outdoor fitness activities, and for safety reasons, she said.

Gallemore's memo said unvaccinated personnel are also authorized to travel from their home to their duty location when they test negative for COVID. They also must continue to monitor their health with self-administered COVID tests once a week.

Trujillo said the shelter in place is temporary.

After this story’s original publication, Trujillo said in a follow-up email other units at Kunsan that are not part of the wing are also following the guidelines on movement restrictions and sheltering in place. She said the base’s leadership will reconsider whether to lift these restrictions on July 30.

Gallemore wrote in his memo that service members who refuse to obey the shelter in place restrictions could face punishment. Non-service members who violate the restrictions could be denied access to the base, or barred entirely from the base for up to two years.

Kunsan's moves come as COVID vaccinations stall, both across the nation and in the military, and concerns grow about the spread of a highly contagious mutation of the disease called the Delta variant.

The Pentagon, which at one point hoped to have all military personnel vaccinated by mid-July, said last week that 70% of active-duty troops have gotten at least one shot.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Military's COVID Vaccination Rate Lags Behind Pentagon's Hopes

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