The around 200 Americans flown out of Wuhan, China, due to the coronavirus outbreak aren’t required to stay under quarantine, health officials said on Jan. 29, but all of the passengers indicated they’d stay at the California air reserve base for at least three days.
Officials initially said there were 201 passengers on the plane, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) later clarified that figure included the pilots, crew members, and government employees.
“These people are not under federal quarantine orders. I’ve personally talked to them when they were disembarking and after they went through their first screening checks. They were happy to be here. They were very much cooperative with the questions,” Dr. Christopher Braden, deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“When I talked to them about their willingness to stay to be fully evaluated over three days or so, all those that I talked to were very willing to do that.”
Americans as young as one month old were at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County after being evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, earlier this week. Most were State Department employees or relatives of those employees.
The evacuees would be monitored twice a day, with checks for symptoms and fevers. None of them showed indications of possibly having the coronavirus when they were checked when the plane refueled in Alaska; one wasn’t let on board in China because they had a fever.
After three days, the people will be free to leave if they give no indication of being high risk, such as having contact with a known patient or having symptoms.
“They have the option to then go on in their travels with active monitoring where they will be going,” Braden said. “Some of them may choose to leave after 72 hours. Some of them may choose to stay for their entire 14-day period of incubation and the base is ready to accommodate that.”
The active monitoring will continue for the people who leave the base, conducted by state and local health departments at their final locations.
It’s possible some people might leave before 72 hours elapse if test results come back negative, Rear Adm. Dr. Nancy Knight, the director of the CDC’s Division of Global Health Protection said.
“They can leave, however, they are sitting in the middle of a military base. Any discussion around departure would be just that, would be a discussion,” she said when pressed on whether people were forced to stay on the base. “If someone demands to leave right now, that is where all of the partners … would come together and talk about what needs to be done. And this would be discussed up to the highest levels within the U.S. government as well.”
“If we think the person is a danger to the community, we can institute an individual quarantine for that person,” Braden added, saying he hoped to clear up confusion about whether the Americans were being quarantined.
If checks show someone has the virus on the base, they’ll be rushed to a hospital, CDC and Department of Defense officials said previously. The CDC said in a statement on Wednesday that “passengers not exhibiting symptoms of exposure will be asked to stay on the base in housing to allow CDC medical officers to perform more thorough screening and to better understand each individual’s exposure.”
The group was originally slated to fly into Ontario International Airport, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. The flight was diverted to the base primarily to make the group comfortable, Baden said.
“They could be at the base for up to two weeks so we think that the base is probably the most comfortable accommodation that we could find for them,” Baden said.
The Department of Defense said earlier Wednesday that department personnel wouldn’t directly be in contact with the evacuees, who wouldn’t have access to any locations on base other than their assigned housing.