The hundreds of American evacuees landing in Texas and Nebraska this week likely won’t be visibly ill, federal health officials said.
The evacuees, numbering around 320, were slated to land in Omaha and San Antonio on Thursday or Friday before being quarantined at a Nebraska National Guard training base and Lackland Air Force Base.
The plane landing in Texas would stop first at Travis Air Force Base in California, where people evacuated from China are under quarantine, and anyone showing symptoms would be taken off the plane, said Capt. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control’s division of high consequence pathogens and pathology, at a press conference in Omaha.
“It’s actually very unlikely that on the flight that lands here, there will be somebody with active signs of illness,” she said.
University of Nebraska Medical Center Chancellor Jeffrey Gold also said that all the evacuees should be healthy when they arrive at Eppley Airfield, which could happen soon as Thursday.
But officials also said that five of the nearly 350 passengers who arrived on Wednesday in California were exhibiting symptoms, including two children. The passengers “were determined to have fever or a cough that warranted them being transported to a local hospital for further evaluation,” the CDC said in a statement. They were immediately sent to the hospital.
And Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a call on Wednesday that officials expected confirmed infections among travelers returning from Hubei Province, including on the four flights landing this week.
“We do not believe these people pose a threat to the communities where they are being housed and we are taking measures to minimize any contact. We expect confirmed infections among these and other returning travelers from Hubei Province,” she said.
“The measures we are taking may not catch every single returning traveler returning with Novel Coronavirus given the nature of this virus and how it is spreading but if we can catch the majority of them, that will slow the entry of this virus into the United States.”
There are up to 1,000 Americans in Hubei Province, McQuiston said at the press conference on Thursday.
“The situation in China is concerning. The virus is spreading quickly there, and an overwhelmed healthcare system there is going to be challenged to provide adequate care for other urgent medical needs,” she said.
“So it’s safest for these Americans who are healthy and not known to be infected to be brought home.”
Seventy Americans would be quarantined at Camp Ashland National Guard Base in Nebraska and up to 250 would be quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
The patients would be isolated in a hotel that was surrounded by a fence and guarded by federal marshals who are enforcing the quarantines, which last for 14 days from the time people are evacuated from China.
The new coronavirus, which started in Wuhan in Hubei Province in December 2019, has spread to roughly two dozen countries and sickened tens of thousands of people, mostly in China. Coronaviruses are common in animals, including camels and bats. In rare cases, the viruses evolve and infect humans before spreading from human to human, as is happening with the new virus.
Health officials around the world are still working on trying to discern the origin of the new virus and other details of the disease.
There are 12 confirmed cases in the United States, including two contracted through person-to-person transmission. The latest case was confirmed in Wisconsin on Wednesday. That patient recently visited Beijing and is isolated at home.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.