Americans from China virus zone evaluated at California military base

Amy Taxin and Mark Thiessen
Associated Press

Riverside, Calif. – The 201 Americans evacuated from the Chinese city at the center of the virus outbreak are undergoing three days of monitoring at a Southern California military base to make sure they do not show signs of the virus, officials said Wednesday.

The people flown out of China on a plane chartered by the U.S. government are not quarantined, Dr. Chris Braden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters after the plane landed at March Air Reserve Base.

But authorities could decide if they would be allowed to leave the base if any of them demand to do so before those three days are up, said Dr. Nancy Knight of the CDC.

An airplane carrying U.S. citizens being evacuated from Wuhan, China, lands at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif. Jan. 29, 2020.

Officials could quarantine any of those evacuated if officials determine they need to do so, Braden said.

None of the passengers showed signs of having the virus when they were screened before leaving the Chinese city of Wuhan that is the epicenter of the virus or when they were screened again during a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska.

The jet landed shortly after 8 a.m. at the base about 60 miles (96 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.

A ground crew dressed in white approached the aircraft shortly after it landed and three charter-style buses parked near the plane. About 40 minutes after landing people could be seen walking from the plane to the first bus, which then departed. Another bus pulled up next to the plane’s baggage compartment.

All the passengers already underwent two health screenings in China and were screened twice more in Anchorage by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One passenger received medical attention for a minor injury that happened before boarding the airplane in China, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, told reporters after the plane left.

The plane was chartered to fly out diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, where the latest coronavirus outbreak started, and other Americans and landed Tuesday night in Anchorage.

“For many of us directly involved in this, it’s become a moving and uplifting experience. The whole plane erupted into cheers when the crew welcomed them back to the United States,” Zink said.

“This is the best possible outcome,” state health commissioner Adam Crum said in a statement. “We wish these passengers the best of luck as they complete their journeys home and I am deeply grateful to everyone who came together to assist us in helping with this repatriation effort.”

State officials had said the plane could carry up to 240 passengers, and Zink said they were prepared for that number.

“At the end of the day, 201 passengers loaded and 201 passengers left Alaska,” she said.

The flight crew remained on the upper level of the plane, entirely isolated from the passengers for the entirety of the flight and did not get off the plane in China, putting them at low risk, she said.

Wuhan is the epicenter of a new virus that has sickened thousands and killed more than 100 people. China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities in Hubei province to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further. In addition to the United States, countries including Japan and South Korea have also planned evacuations. Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, and in more severe cases shortness of breath or pneumonia.

Thiessen reported from Anchorage, Alaska.