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Fort Riley officials monitoring health of soldiers returning from South Korea

The Fort Riley Military Base and army installation in north central Kansas. (Tony Webster/Flickr)

Fort Riley officials have limited the movement of some soldiers returning from South Korea amid a global coronavirus outbreak.

“We are placing some soldiers in restricted movement if they’ve come from one of the high-risk areas,” said Lt. Col. Terence Kelley, director of public affairs for the 1st Infantry Division. “The general idea is restricting movement for 14 days just to ensure they’re not out there moving through the population.”

High risk areas are countries identified by the CDC as a “Level 3 Travel Heath Notice,” including China, Iran, Italy and South Korea. Kelley said four soldiers have returned from South Korea in recent days, and very few people would be coming to Fort Riley from the former three countries.

This order confines soldiers to their housing and limits soldiers from moving around the community beyond what’s needed to perform essential duties.

During the two-week monitoring period, command staffers screen individuals for flu-like symptoms and check where they have recently traveled. If soldiers display any symptoms, they will be turned over to the care of a medical provider for further medical screening and testing. Kelley said Fort Riley leaders are assisting soldiers to make sure they receive meals and necessary services like laundry.

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Kelley said soldiers, who are not all from Fort Riley-based units, have been returning recently for various reasons. In some cases, he said, troops have finished one- to two-year tours in South Korea and are in the process of moving back to the U.S. Some of these soldiers may have left their personal items on post before deploying so after the monitoring period they would be moving on to other areas.

Because of coronavirus concerns, the U.S. Department of the Army issued an order over the weekend to stop movement of troops to and from South Korea, including those scheduled to attend professional military education in the U.S.

Kelley said Fort Riley also is working closely with regional partners, communities and public health officials to coordinate a response if necessary. He said representatives with Fort Riley, Geary and Riley counties, K-State, state public health officials and more met last week to discuss possible needs.

“That way is just to ensure that if a response becomes necessary, we’re completely coordinated with regional and local officials,” he said.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Saturday confirmed one presumptive positive case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in Kansas in Johnson County. The testing was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for official verification.

The novel coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China in late 2018. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, to severe illness and death.

Older people and people with severe chronic conditions are at a higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illnesses.

To prevent contraction or spread of diseases, health officials recommend people:

wash their hands regularly

avoid close contact with sick people

avoid touching their face

cover coughs and sneezes

stay home if they experience fever or illness symptoms

clean surfaces with a disinfectant

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© 2020 The Manhattan Mercury