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Did a farewell party lead to a COVID-19 outbreak on a Marine reserve base?

Two Marines claim a going away party for a Marine stationed at the small Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, led to several Marines testing positive for COVID-19, as positive cases for the virus spike within the military and around the nation.

The party took place on June 9, two Marines told Marine Corps Times on condition of anonymity.

The two Marines said that one of the attendees at the party had a fever and left early, but one was warned they might have been exposed. Within four days one of the Marines, a noncommissioned officer, said they woke up with a fever and a headache.

“I woke up with a 103 degree fever,” the since-recovered noncommissioned officer told Marine Corps Times.

The small joint reserve base is home to 350 full-time Marines and is a local hub for reservists from the Navy and Air Force in addition to the Marine Corps.

A second Marine, a lance corporal, was still feeling symptoms more than two weeks after the party ended.

“I have a fever, I have a migraine, I am still having chills,” the Marine told Marine Corps Times, also sending a photograph of her temperature.

Both Marines tested positive for COVID-19, according to medical documents showed to Marine Corps Times, and entered two weeks of quarentine.

The Dallas–Fort Worth area was one of the hardest hit areas in Texas, according to the Texas Department of State and Health Services.

Between Tarrant County, where the Naval Air Station is located, and the neighboring Dallas county over 50,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, according July 13 numbers from the state’s health department. The day of the June 9 party, the area had 660 people hospitalized because of the virus.

The two Marines said they were told the party was sanctioned by the command, but a Marine Corps spokesman said no party was approved.

“A going away or farewell gathering is a Marine Corps tradition,” Maj. Roger Hollenbeck, a spokesman for Marine Forces Reserve, told Marine Corps Times in an email. “These traditions continue with the oversight of leadership to ensure appropriate measures are taken to preserve the health of the force.

“In this case there was no command sanctioned gathering or party.”

The major said he was unable to speak about any events that happened without command approval.

All the Marines who attended the farewell event were quarantined and several eventually tested positive for COVID-19, both Marines separately told Marine Corps Times.

An official familiar with the situation aboard Fort Worth said they could not give a number for how many Marines on the base have tested positive for the virus, but did say an event happened in early June that caused Marines to return to teleworking.

The official did not say whether or not the event was the party mentioned by the two Marines.

Services will not release data for specific units or installations citing operational security and privacy concerns.

A spokesman for headquarters Marine Corps told Marine Corps Times that he did not know of any spikes at the Fort Worth base, but acknowledged that positive tests are increasing throughout the Marine Corps and the country.

“I am unaware of any anomalous spikes that are specific or unique to the Marine Corps,” Capt. Joseph Butterfield told Marine Corps Times. “Like the other military services, and the rest of the world, we continue to adjust our daily operations to meet the challenges that we face with the COVID pandemic.”

The entire Department of Defense saw a spike in cases in late June, with Marine Corps alone seeing a 23 percent increase in positive cases in one week.

As of Friday, the Marine Corps has had 1,770 Marines test positive for COVID-19, according to the Defense Department.

The two Marines who talked to Marine Corps Times claimed they both had their careers threatened after they tested positive for the virus. One Marine claimed that their future promotion was threatened by a senior staff noncommissioned officer in the chain of command.

“Everything I did was legal,” the Marine told Marine Corps Times. “Medical has told me not to step on base.”

The Marine, who was still feeling the effects of the virus, said she was threatened to be investigated for malingering if she did not show up at work.

Text exchanges sent to Marine Corps Times show the Marine was told if the Centers for Disease Control representatives who tested her did not call her chain of command to say she was required to remain quarantined she was expected to show up like normal.

Hollenbeck said there were currently no malingering investigations into Marines related to COVID-19.

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