By Sgt. Broderick Hennington
Making a quick purchase in an Exchange Shoppette is something that many people do without giving it much thought - and that's exactly what Pfc. Micah Lewis did on March.19, 2020. Little did she know that quick purchase, now forgotten, would land her in a 14-day quarantine.
“I was at the shoppette near Eighth Army (headquarters),” said Lewis. “It was around noon. I was there for maybe 15 minutes. I don’t even know what I bought. Then, I went back to work.”
Lewis, a veterinary technician with the 106th Medical Detachment, 65th Medical Brigade, on Camp Humphreys, South Korea, wasn’t aware that visit to the shoppette would get her quarantined.
“I was doing a surgical training exercise and began getting really sick. I was throwing up, coughing, sneezing and had a really bad headache,” Lewis said. “Then, my first sergeant got a list of hot spots, I was at one of them a few days prior.”
Over the last month, amid calls to “protect the bubble” and #KilltheVirus, Camp Humphreys still has seen cases of the coronavirus.
The unpredictable nature of the virus has altered the way Camp Humphreys operates. Soldiers are currently limited to only takeout dining options both on and off the installation and visiting bars and off-post restaurants is restricted in an attempt to quell the spread of the virus.
The virus pops up unexpectedly and creates "hot spots" like random checkpoints in a video game.
In the midst of all the preventative measures, Thursday, March 19, a contractor visited the Sentry Village Starbucks, Zoeckler Shoppette and many other locations on post. The person then tested positive for COVID-19 on the following Saturday, which made all those places hotspots and caused many to be quarantined.
Lewis was one of many quarantined across Camp Humphreys.
“We have 73 occupants in this building right now,” said 1st Lt. Jonathon NG, executive officer for the 630th Clearance Company, 12th Engineers Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. “We have 100 rooms.”
The coronavirus has spread across the world and has become a global pandemic. Many people were not prepared for it and Lewis wasn’t prepared when she was sent into quarantine.
“They didn’t give me a packing list. They didn’t give me anything. I went to the quarantine barracks with what I had on, the clothes on my back, my phone and my wallet,” Lewis said. “The next day I had to call my NCO and have her bring me clothes, a toothbrush, shampoo…things I needed as a person, to be hygienic.”
Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Pagel, a combat engineer also with the 630th Clearance Company, is currently serving as the noncommissioned officer in charge at the quarantine barracks.
“There’s three different ways 65th Medical screens people,” Pagel said. “The first one is going to the emergency room and having the COVID-19 test. Then they are placed into quarantine until the results come in. The second is calling the hotline and explaining their symptoms. If instructed to go to quarantine, they are then picked up by a drive team and brought to the barracks. The last is being identified by CCTV footage as being at a hot spot.”
Lewis admitted her quarantine experience completely surprised her.
“I don’t own a laptop, just a TV,” Lewis said. “I didn’t expect things to be like that. Not empty. I was assuming we’d have more stuff. We didn’t even have Wi-Fi in the barracks. It was really boring.”
NG acknowledged that it is difficult to be quarantined within the current circumstances, but he emphasized their efforts to help maintain positive morale.
“Maintaining morale is important, but difficult, because it feels like solitary confinement for some,” NG said. “Most of the interaction they get is when we bring their chow or when there is a package for us to deliver.”
Being quarantined can be difficult, Lewis used her time to partake in less modern forms of entertainment.
“I told my NCO to bring my notebook, books and pens,” Lewis said. “For the next two weeks I sat there and drew. I finished reading “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and I started “A Handmaid’s Tale.”
Although there are alternative, less modern forms of entertainment, the leadership of the barracks is working to improve the current situation.
“In this building we don’t have Wi-Fi,” NG said “A team is coming today to see what we can do to get it installed.”
NG continued to say that the Soldiers have received care packages from many different organizations and unit leadership will drop off additional comfort items.
After testing negative at the end of her 14-day quarantine, Lewis was released.
Lewis said how glad she was about being out of quarantine and able to go back to work.