New Coronavirus: What the U.S. Military Community in Okinawa should know

U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, Japan Public Affairs

OKINAWA, Japan, — With news of the contagious and potentially deadly illness known as novel coronavirus grabbing headlines worldwide, military health officials say that an informed, common-sense approach minimizes the chances of getting sick both in the U.S. and here in Japan.

At this time, there have been no identified cases nor any suspected cases of the new coronavirus identified among U.S. service members or their family members here in Okinawa, but public health officials at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa are closely monitoring the situation.

Many forms of coronavirus exist among both humans and animals, but uncertainty about this new strain’s lethality has triggered concern and proactive measures to prevent the spread of this virus. Believed to have originated at an animal market in Wuhan City, China, there have been just over 20,000 cases worldwide of the novel coronavirus as of Feb. 4, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of these cases, so far, have been in China.

According to the Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, there have been 61 cases of this new coronavirus identified in Japan. Most of these cases are among people who have recently traveled to China.

Any service members, DoD civilians, or their family members who have returned from China in the last 14 days are being quarantined to their quarters for a 14-day period, starting from the day they left China. While quarantined, these individuals will be monitored regularly by health care professionals. Currently there are no suspected cases among the quarantined personnel.

For these people—and for any person who has returned from China in the last month—if they begin to feel sick, it is vital they call U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa’s Preventive Medicine Department at 090-6861-5230 prior to coming to the hospital or any clinic. Most cases of coronavirus can be managed from home. If not, medical personnel will coordinate your arrival to the hospital to ensure exposure to other patients and health care workers is minimized.

As it is currently cold and flu season, people who have not traveled to China who are suffering a respiratory illness should not assume it is novel coronavirus. It is far more likely to be a more common malady.

In the interest of protecting the force against any respiratory illnesses, all DoD personnel are encouraged to follow the guidance put out by the Office of Personnel and Readiness and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including those that cause colds and flu. These precautionary preventative measures include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.

If you are sick, to avoid spreading respiratory illness to others, you should:

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • If you need to see the doctor, call ahead and tell the clinic your travel history.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

In addition, the Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, in alignment with State Department and CDC travel and health warnings and DoD force health protection guidance, has restricted all DoD travel to China. This restriction is specific to the geographic confines of China, and applies to all U.S. military, civilians, and DoD contractors. There are no travel restrictions from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command for DoD personnel within the remainder of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of operations. Service members should consult their specific command guidance on travel.

As with any public health concern, U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa continues to monitor this evolving situation closely and work with Japanese health officials to ensure the health of our force in Okinawa.

For more information, visit:
CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (in Japanese), https://www.mhlw.go.jp/index.html
World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, https://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmcphc/program-and-policy-support/Pages/Novel-Coronavirus.aspx

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