As a large contingent of Oregon-based soldiers returns home from overseas deployment, dozens have tested positive for coronavirus following a mission in Kosovo, officials said this week.
Members of the Oregon congressional delegations have raised questions about whether the military has been able to give the infected service members adequate treatment.
Around 400 soldiers with Oregon’s National Guard, from the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment and Oregon’s 41st Infantry Brigade, began returning from a 10-month deployment in Kosovo to Fort Bliss in Texas in November.
As of Tuesday, at least 60 of them had tested positive, according to Stephen Bomar, a spokesman for the Oregon Military Department. It’s unclear if the service members were infected at Fort Bliss or overseas.
In a letter on Monday, members of Oregon’s congressional delegation questioned whether the soldiers were receiving proper care.
“Our concern for the health and wellbeing of the soldiers and their families is of the utmost priority as they reintegrate back into their communities,” the delegation wrote. “We have questions as to their care at Ft. Bliss.”
The letter was signed by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Reps. Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Greg Walden and Suzanne Bonamici. Among the unresolved issues, according to the letter, was whether the Army had enough test kits, personal protective equipment and personnel to perform contact tracing for the infected soldiers.
“If not, what is the plan to address shortages and is there assistance needed to do so?” the delegation wrote.
The service members returned to Fort Bliss for a 14-day mandatory quarantine upon returning from Kosovo, Bomar said, adding that all Oregon soldiers remaining in Texas have been tested and that the Army was “working through their protocols” in regards to quarantining and contact tracing.
A representative from Schrader’s office said the delegation had not received a response as of Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, roughly 200 of the soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment, returned to Oregon on Tuesday night, landing at Portland International Airport before they were bussed to reunite with friends and family in Clackamas and Lane counties.
The deployment to Kosovo was the second largest for the Oregon National Guard since World War II, Bomar said. The Army hopes the remaining soldiers can return home from Fort Bliss by Christmas.
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