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Fort McCoy has had 1 measles case, more than a dozen COVID-19 cases among Afghans

Soldiers prepare for training April 6, 2016 at Fort McCoy, Wis. (U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol)

As of Thursday, Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin had fewer than two dozen COVID-19 cases and one measles case among the thousands of Afghan refugees staying there, a spokesperson said.

Everyone who has been infected with either measles or COVID-19 was isolated, and those who were exposed were put in quarantine, said Fort McCoy spokesperson Cheryl Phillips.

Before arriving at a base, all Afghan refugees are tested for COVID-19, offered a COVID-19 vaccine for free and given a medical screening, which includes “critical” immunizations against polio and measles, mumps and rubella, Phillips said.

Fort McCoy is one of eight military bases housing refugees who fled from Afghanistan after the recent collapse of the country’s government to the Taliban. Fort McCoy can accommodate up to 13,000 people, and 8,780 refugees had arrived as of Sept. 3.

On Saturday, Fort McCoy identified one refugee who had symptoms of measles upon arrival at the base, Phillips said. That person was immediately placed in isolation and tested positive for measles on Sunday.

Those at risk of being exposed to measles were quarantined in another area. They were also given post-exposure vaccines, and contract tracing was completed to ensure no one else was exposed, Phillips said.

“Since the identification of the case, no other guests have been diagnosed with measles,” Phillips said. “The rapid response at Fort McCoy reflects careful preparation and strong interagency collaboration aimed at meeting the needs of our guests, including the management of infectious disease.”

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory system that is spread by breathing contaminated air or touching contaminated surfaces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus is so contagious that up to 90% of people close to an infected person who are not immune will also catch it.

Phillips would not go into further detail about the COVID-19 infections beyond saying there were “less than two dozen” positive cases on Thursday. Roughly 125 Afghans who had been identified through contact tracing as having a potential exposure to COVID-19 were in quarantine.

In response to a question about whether the infections affected the arrival of Afghan refugees, Phillips said Fort McCoy is still receiving evacuees. Phillips said Fort McCoy won’t be providing any further updates on how many Afghans are staying at the military base.

After a visit to the Fort McCoy this week, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan said refugees could start completing the immigration process and leaving the base to resettle elsewhere as early as this weekend.

He said all but one of the arrivals had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine as part of their medical screening.

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(c) 2021 The Wisconsin State Journal

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