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‘We have no plans or places to go’: U.S. service member opens up about being stationed in South Korea amid coronavirus outbreak

Jon Parks has been spending a lot of time at home lately. Parks, a technical sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, is stationed in Daegu, South Korea, with his family — where a coronavirus outbreak that’s infected nearly 90,000 people across the globe is exploding.

While Parks and his family, which includes his wife and two young children, regularly interacted with their local community before the outbreak occurred, they’re now mostly stuck at home due to the virus. “I go to work when necessary and I go to [the] base to pick up groceries and incidentals,” Parks tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We are not allowed to go to off-base markets or stores. We wake up like any other weekend morning, eat, shower, get dressed and then realize we have no plans or places to go.”

According to the BBC, about 75 percent of the coronavirus infections in South Korea are from the city of Daegu. The virus is spreading rapidly in the area. Two weeks ago, there were no reported cases in South Korea. Now, 4,335 people in the country have been infected with coronavirus and 26 people have died of the virus, per data from Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. military announced in late February that an unidentified service member stationed at South Korea’s Camp Carroll tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first time a U.S. service member had tested positive for the virus. The military has labeled coronavirus a “high” risk to members of the military, according to a press release. As troops brace for more cases, here’s what it’s like to live in a city of quarantines.

The initial response was to stock up on supplies

When coronavirus first showed up in Daegu, Parks says people reacted quickly to protect themselves and their families. “The first impacts we’ve witnessed weren’t from the primary effects of the virus, but more of everyone’s reaction,” he says. “Luckily our on-base facilities have done a tremendous job of restocking their shelves, but initially people were stocking up on supplies and they ran very low on popular items.”

Parks says that the U.S. military has kept troops posted on news about the virus through daily updates online. “This helped a lot by controlling rumors and helping people know their leadership is taking control of the situation,” he says. “We were told to basically go to and from base only, and when it was necessary. That’s the right call, in my opinion, because it will obviously reduce U.S. Armed Forces’ potential exposure to the virus.”

But, Parks says, there are “secondary effects” from the virus. “A lot of small businesses had to close their doors temporarily from lack of business and also to keep their employees safe as well,” he says. “I know a local business owner is worried about being temporarily closed until the virus is under control and things are back to normal, because if it lasts too long, his temporary closure may be a permanent closure.”

Most families are staying home

Parks says that “technically” dependents like his wife and children could leave their home “if they wanted to” but most families are following the instruction of the U.S. military and staying home. So, they have a lot of time to kill. “We have been taking care of projects around the house and trying to entertain our kids,” Parks says. “We try to stick to a routine to prevent from becoming complacent and lazy.”

Two-week quarantines are a possibility

Coronavirus is spreading rapidly in Daegu but Parks says he’s not overly stressed about his kids contracting it. “Fortunately children seem to have little complications if they are diagnosed with the virus. It isn’t anything we want to experience, but it isn’t horrifying,” he says. “My wife and I are not in the most problematic age group and we are both somewhat physically fit, which would help if we contracted the virus.”

However, Parks says he could be placed under a two-week quarantine if he does happen to contract the virus or even come into contact with someone who has had it. “If I go to work or to the grocery store and am found to have been in contact with someone with the virus, I could be quarantined for two weeks,” he says. “This would put a tremendous strain on my wife to take care of our children, not only by herself but in a situation where running the necessary errands exponentially increases the risk to our children.”

Parks is also worried about both he and his wife catching the virus. “If we both caught it, now we have to go through treatment and again, these events could be very difficult on our kids,” he says.

Can these types of restrictions happen in the U.S.?

It’s possible, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “In general, I hope these kind of restrictions don’t happen in the U.S., but these are going to be decisions made at a local level,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We don’t know what local governments will do.”

There is some precedent for this kind of thing in the U.S. In 2014, a county in North Carolina enacted three-week quarantines to try to help prevent the spread of Ebola. A New Jersey nurse was also detained at an airport that same year and quarantined for several days in a parking garage after caring for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, despite having no symptoms of the illness.

Ultimately, Adalja says “there’s a chance” Americans may need to be house-bound if coronavirus comes to their communities. “Hopefully, we’ll minimize these restrictions with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but there’s a risk it could happen,” he says.

Parks wants Americans to know that they shouldn’t stress about coronavirus, but they should be aware of it and take the proper precautions. “If everyone washes their hands and practices good common sense, we should be just fine,” he says. Parks also urges people to be prepared for the chance that coronavirus could come to their area. “Be prepared financially if your work may be affected by the presence of the virus in your community,” he says. “Listen to reputable sources for updates and ignore social media and rumors. Take care of yourself, and if you feel sick, stay home.”

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