CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Feb. 28, 2020) -- U.S. Army Garrison Japan updated its workforce on the community's response to the coronavirus and answered questions during a town hall meeting here Feb. 25.
"I want to make sure as we talk to our workforce and the people that we interact with in the community that we are dealing from a position of facts," Col. Thomas Matelski, commander of USAG Japan, told nearly 300 workers.
Matelski began by sharing key information: There are no Status of Forces Agreement or Japanese employees on Camp Zama or the nearby Sagamihara Family Housing area who have tested positive for the virus, but there are several people who are in isolation for a 14-day quarantine period.
"These people are part of our community," Matelski said. "They are our families and our co-workers, and they deserve the same compassion and understanding that we give everybody else every day."
Col. Marshall Mendenhall, deputy commander for clinical services for U.S. Army Medical Activity -- Japan, and Col. Todd Bell, commander of Public Health Activity -- Japan, helped Matelski answer questions from the audience.
Mendenhall said it is important for people to know the Camp Zama quarantine measures have been thorough.
The incubation of the virus is from four to seven days, with the average being five days, so the 14-day quarantine includes two incubation periods "to be extra safe," Mendenhall said.
Matelski also shared another significant development with the community: In an overabundance of caution, this year's Camp Zama Cherry Blossom Festival, an open-post event that draws thousands annually, is cancelled. The event had been scheduled for March 29.
"Although we'll still have cherry blossoms to take a look at, we'll have to do that with our friends and with our families instead of [at] a big public event," Matelski said. "And we'll continue to work with each of the directorates to identify those other events that are at risk for cancellation and we'll put that information out as it's available."
In response to a question about safety measures at schools, Matelski said officials are in constant communication with Department of Defense Education Activity officials, the superintendent, the school liaison officer Lucinda Ward and the principals at John O. Arnn Elementary School and Zama Middle High School.
DODEA, for example, has issued a letter about the reasons behind cancelled Far East championship athletic activities, Matelski said. The cancellations were largely due to coronavirus concerns in South Korea.
In addition, MEDDAC-Japan is working on information releases about how to talk to children and parents about the virus, Matelski said.
In terms of the Child Development Centers, School Age Services and the Youth Center at Camp Zama, garrison officials are working with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation to communicate with the community, Matelski said.
Mendenhall said that when it comes to schools and children, many precautions are already in place because of the flu season.
"In regards to protecting the children, we're somewhat well-rehearsed because we have had a bad flu season this year, so our practices of good handwashing and cough etiquette, those kinds of things, we should be good at already," Mendenhall said.
In response to a question about supplies such as hand sanitizer and face masks, Matelski said officials are working with AAFES and the Defense Commissary Agency to increase supplies.
In addition, workers should not fear reporting potential coronavirus symptoms, Matelski said.
"It's important that we all share information to make sure that we are keeping the entire community safe," Matelski said. "Ultimately, our goal is to keep the entire community safe no matter how good or bad the information is."
In regard to a question about how long the virus is expected to last, Bell said the answer is unclear because the coronavirus is new and emerging.
Although many viruses are seasonal, such as the flu, experts do not know if this virus will behave similarly, Bell said.
Also, in regard to possible vaccinations, although many are working to develop a coronavirus vaccination, vaccine development is generally a slow process, Bell said.
"I don't see that happening realistically, in the next several months, probably," Bell said. "It's a difficult process, but again, fortunately many folks are working on this, so hopefully the timeline is sped up."
In regard to a question about Camp Zama medical personnel being able to test for coronavirus, Mendenhall said that medical facilities at Camp Zama, Yokota Air Base and U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka do not have the ability to test for the coronavirus.
So far, U.S. officials have relied on Japanese civilian hospitals to test for them, Mendenhall said.
Matelski urged members of the audience to take personal precautions to safeguard the community, such as handwashing and wearing masks. They should also understand if some people don't want to shake hands.
"Respect that as individuals taking measures to protect themselves," Matelski said.
In closing, Matelski asked people to take care of one another.
"Fear is a powerful emotion," Matelski said. "Fear often causes us to focus only on ourselves and taking care of those really close to us, but we can't fall prey to fear, because of the organization that we work for and the people that we support.
"So I would ask each and every one of you to help take care of each other, but take practical measures to make sure we're ensuring the safety of all of us," he concluded.