US Evacuees From China’s Virus Zone Isolated at Californian Military Base

January 29, 2020 Updated: January 29, 2020
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The Americans evacuated from the virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan have voluntarily stayed in isolation at a Californian air force base for medical evaluations, federal health officials said on Jan. 29.

The 195 evacuees, who came back on a chartered plane, will be staying in the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County for about three days, Nancy Messonnier from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told reporters. She said the people on board “cheered loudly” as the plane landed in the United States.

So far, no passengers have exhibited symptoms of the infectious disease, said Messonnier. Messonnier is the director for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Medical personnel will continue to actively monitor the evacuees for up to 14 days—the upper bound of the virus’ incubation period before the symptoms become apparent.

At least one person was not allowed to board the flight due to signs of fever, officials said earlier. All passengers were “screened and evaluated by medical personnel every step of the way,” including before boarding, during the flight, and when the plane refueled in Anchorage, Alaska.

Five Americans have tested positive for the disease after traveling to Wuhan, including two in California, one in Washington State, one in Arizona, and one in Illinois. Officials have not detected any new cases so far, although Messonnier said additional cases are likely to emerge in the coming days.

Messonnier noted that the 72-hour period of isolation at the base is not based on a specific timeline related to the virus, but rather an estimated period of time necessary for medical officers to examine the health of passengers and give them time to recuperate. The passengers have willingly undergone the medical testing because “they want to make sure that they are protecting themselves and their communities,” she said.

Officials initially said there were 201 passengers on the plane, but Messonnier said that included the pilots, crew members, and government employees.

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Passengers wear face masks to protect against the spread of the Coronavirus as they arrive on a flight from Asia at Los Angeles International Airport, Calif., on Jan. 29, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)

The CDC has now expanded screenings to 20 major airports across the country. Noting that some patients might not display symptoms of infection immediately, creating challenges for screening detection, Messonnier said they will also be handing out 350,000 health information cards so that travelers know where to look for help if they get sick.

At least 19 countries have reported cases of coronavirus infection. The CDC has recommended against traveling to China. The State Department has also upgraded the travel warning to level three, advising all U.S. nationals to “reconsider travel” to China and to avoiding going to Hubei, the province that has reported the largest number of infections.

The World Health Organization has assessed the risk for the coronavirus as “very high in China, high at the regional levell and high at the global level.” The Geneva-based agency said they will be sending international experts to China to assist disease control efforts “as soon as possible.”

U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday said the Chinese side had rejected at least twice their offer to send U.S. experts to China to study the virus. Messonnier confirmed that CDC experts will be part of the WHO mission team.

Besides the United States, a number of other countries, including France, Australia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Japan have taken measures to move their citizens out of Wuhan.

Japan repatriated 206 of its nationals from the central Chinese city on Wednesday, with five of them sent to specialized infectious disease hospitals in Tokyo. A dozen of the passengers have coughs and fever, including three who have been diagnosed with the virus.

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