WASHINGTON — The commander of the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has decided to increase coronavirus testing of fully vaccinated people coming to the isolated base, rather than put them in a weeklong quarantine, following the discovery of seven virus cases at a time of heightened concern over the highly contagious Delta variant.

Since July 20, base officials said, seven people who traveled to the base following negative virus tests were later found to be infected. One of the seven, a base resident, was evacuated to a health care facility in the United States, said Dawn C. Grimes, a spokeswoman for the base hospital.

The base commander, Navy Capt. Samuel White, ordered a seven-day quarantine for all vaccinated visitors and returning residents on Monday, but then lifted the order again shortly afterward. The order was a significant departure from the Pentagon’s wider practice, which permits installation commanders to quarantine unvaccinated people for up to 14 days as a precaution.

Now, Navy health workers at the base will test all vaccinated passengers for the virus on arrival, and will immediately quarantine those who test positive, Nikki L. Maxwell, a spokeswoman for Captain White, said on Thursday. All unvaccinated visitors will also be quarantined, and tested later. Fully vaccinated people are protected against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including those caused by the Delta variant.

The change in course means that the military judge, lawyers and other court personnel who will travel to the base for the arraignment of three Southeast Asian prisoners, scheduled for Aug. 30, will not have to arrive a week early, as long as they are vaccinated. The arraignment is the first consequential hearing to be held by the military commissions at the base since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The three prisoners, who have been held in United States custody for 18 years, are scheduled to go before a judge for the first time, on charges that they conspired in two deadly terrorist bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2003. They were captured in Thailand in 2003; one of them, an Indonesian man known as Hambali, was once a leader of the extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

The arraignment was originally scheduled for Feb. 22, but was postponed because of the pandemic.

The base has already been requiring arriving passengers to show a negative result on a P.C.R. test for the virus performed less than 72 hours before flying to Guantánamo Bay. The new policy requires fully vaccinated people to take what is known as a rapid antigen virus test, and if found to be positive, to be quarantined and retested with a P.C.R. test. Military officials were also considering adding yet another test, to be taken at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C., before boarding a flight to Guantánamo.

The naval base in Cuba, with about 6,000 residents and a small hospital, has so far been able to avoid a major coronavirus outbreak through isolation, testing and quarantines. It disclosed two cases in the spring of 2020 before the Pentagon adopted a policy of not reporting case tallies base by base.

According to base spokesmen, the seven recent cases connected with Guantánamo Bay included three unvaccinated residents who were quarantined on arrival and later tested positive; two vaccinated residents who tested positive within a week of arrival; and two vaccinated foreign journalists who visited the base from July 26 to July 29 and later tested positive.

Ms. Maxwell also said on Thursday that since March of last year, 12 people had been found to test positive at the base. That figure excluded the journalists, who began experiencing symptoms and discovered they were infected later when they returned to the mainland.

She said the base’s remote location and limited access points — through the seaport and airstrip — “contributed to the base community’s public health success during the pandemic.”

It was not immediately known whether any of the recent cases were linked to the Delta variant of the virus.

As of this week, 63 percent of the adults on base were fully vaccinated, including at least 33 of the 39 long-held prisoners, Ms. Maxwell said. The others have declined. The base cannot vaccinate people younger than 18 years of age because the vaccine that the Pentagon is providing — the Moderna vaccine — is not authorized for children.


Source From Nytimes

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