US health officials will not institute a blanket quarantine for about 200 Americans who landed at a California military base Wednesday after being evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China.
Several passengers said they would stay at the base volutarily, said Dr. Chris Braden, deputy director for the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“They wanted to know their own status. They wanted to know the status of their children. They wanted to protect their family, They wanted to protect others,” he said.
The plan is to hold the passengers for three days, monitoring them for fever and other symptoms at least twice daily, Braden said.
Then if health officials determine they don’t pose a danger, they can go home but will need to be monitored by local officials for the 14-day incubation period, he said. The patients staying at March Air Reserve Base near Riverside, California, might also choose to remain there for the 14 days.
Should anyone demand to go home before they’re cleared, an individual quarantine is an option, Braden said.
“If anyone demands to leave right now, that is where all of the partners … would come together and talk about what needs to be done,” said Dr. Nancy Knight, the CDC’s director of the division of global health protection, noting that US marshals are on hand to ensure everyone’s safety.
Touching down in California
The flight — operated by Kalitta Air out of Ypsilanti Township, Michigan — landed shortly after 8 a.m. (11 a.m. ET). Several law enforcement vehicles greeted it on the tarmac, their lights flashing.
Chartered by the US State Department, the plane left Wuhan and touched down late Tuesday night at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska.
After refueling and passenger screenings, it left for the March Air Reserve Base. There, local officials began working with the CDC to thoroughly screen each passenger, who already underwent screenings by American and Chinese health officials in Wuhan.
The CDC cleared all passengers, most of whom are American diplomatic corps or their families, to continue on to California, Alaska officials said.
Passengers were screened in an isolated area of the Anchorage airport’s north terminal, which handles international flights, and had no impact on general travel, airport manager Jim Szczesniak said.
The CDC will work with airport officials to clean the terminal, and there are no international flights scheduled at the airport until May, he said.
The US Defense Department and US Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the CDC, arranged housing at the military base, Defense Department spokeswoman Alyssa Fara said. If any of the passengers fall ill, they will be treated at a local civilian hospital, she said.
‘The whole plane erupted’
Passenger Scott Allis told CNN they received a hot meal in Anchorage, while Darby Siebels said passengers had a chance to charge their phones before getting back on the plane after 1 a.m. (5 a.m. ET).
“For many of us directly involved, this has been a moving and uplifting experience,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. “The whole plane erupted in cheers when the crew said, ‘Welcome home to the United States.'”
The fast-moving coronavirus has killed 132 people and infected nearly 6,000 others in China, most of them in the hardest-hit city of Wuhan. Ninety-one cases have been confirmed outside of mainland China, including five in the United States. The CDC has investigated 165 potential cases in 36 states. Of those, 68 tested negative, while 92 remain pending.
The evacuation flight was originally slated to land at the Ontario International Airport, a civilian facility about 35 miles from Los Angeles.
It’s not immediately clear why the itinerary was changed Tuesday from the civilian airport to March Air Reserve Base.
A battery of screenings
Officials were prepared to take 240 passengers, the plane’s capacity, but the flight left with 201 people after some intended passengers failed to get to the airport or through screenings and other processes, Zink said. One passenger had a fever and was prohibited from boarding, health officials said.
Included among the passengers are children ranging in age from 1-month-old to their teens, officials said.
Precautions were taken to separate the crew on the plane’s upper level from the passengers on the plane’s lower level, she said, and the crew did not disembark in China.
“These individuals will be screened before they take off; monitored during the duration of the flight by medical personnel on board; screened again on landing to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska; monitored on the last leg of the flight by medical personnel on board; evaluated upon arrival at March Air Reserve Base … and then monitored for symptoms post-arrival,” the CDC said.
Priority was given to US citizens at risk
The passengers include US diplomats and their families. The State Department said other US citizens could board on a reimbursable basis if space was available.
While there are about 1,000 Americans living in Wuhan, priority was given to US citizens who are “most at risk for contracting coronavirus” if they stay in the city, the State Department said.
The department said it was unable to accommodate everyone due to space limitations, but it is working to identify alternative routes for US citizens to depart Wuhan by land.
The State Department issued a Level 4 advisory for Wuhan, meaning Americans should not travel to the city while the virus has an impact, Vice President Mike Pence said. It ordered personnel working at the US Consulate in Wuhan to depart for the United States.
Other countries including South Korea and Japan are sending charters to evacuate citizens from the epicenter of the outbreak. The European Commission said it was sending two aircraft to evacuate European Union citizens from Wuhan.