The testing is meant to forestall universal quarantining at the isolated U.S. naval base in Cuba, which would complicate upcoming hearings in terrorism cases.,
Guantanamo will step up testing of vaccinated visitors, following a rise in virus cases.
The naval base at Guantanamo Bay has managed to avoid any major coronavirus outbreaks so far, but has recently detected seven cases among residents and visitors. Members of the military and their relatives, base workers and journalists debarked from a ferry at Guantanamo Bay in 2019.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Aug. 5, 2021, 1:41 p.m. ET
The United States Navy captain in charge of the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has decided to increase testing of fully vaccinated visitors to the base, rather than put them in a weeklong quarantine, following the discovery of several coronavirus cases at the isolated base.
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, 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 passengers for the virus on arrival, regardless of vaccination status, and will immediately quarantine those who test positive, said Nikki L. Maxwell, a spokeswoman for Captain White. All unvaccinated visitors will also be quarantined.
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 Jemmah 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 Guantanamo Bay. The new policy calls for another test upon arrival for fully vaccinated people. 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 Guantanamo.
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 Guantanamo 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.
It was not immediately known whether any of the recent cases were linked to the Delta variant of the virus. Fully vaccinated people are protected against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including those caused by the Delta variant.