There are no signs of illness among the 195 Americans who were flown out of Wuhan, China, on a chartered flight that landed Wednesday in Southern California, public health officials said.
The passengers are U.S. citizens, many of whom work for the Department of State, as well as their families. Some are children; the youngest is one month old.
All were screened for signs of the new virus — fever, cough and other respiratory symptoms — before boarding the plane in China. One person was not permitted on board because of a fever, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
In all, 201 people were on board the flight from Wuhan: 195 individuals being evacuated, as well as the pilot, crew and medical personnel.
Screening was repeated once more after boarding was completed, as well as during the flight, including after the plane landed in Anchorage, Alaska, for refueling. That’s where health officials also questioned the passengers to determine whether anyone had been in close contact with coronavirus patients.
None of the passengers met that criteria, and all were allowed to continue to the base in California, where they will remain for 72 hours and undergo a diagnostic test for the virus.
They are not under a forced federal quarantine, but are expected to follow CDC guidance to remain on base.
“If we think that a person is a danger to the community, we can institute an individual quarantine for that person, and we will,” Dr. Chris Braden, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said during a news conference near March Air Reserve Base on Wednesday.
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If CDC testing comes back negative, and passengers remain healthy after three days, they will be able to travel the rest of the way home on their own.
However, they will have strict guidance to monitor themselves and their families for symptoms for 14 days.
Five confirmed cases of the new coronavirus have been diagnosed in the United States, and health officials said there is no sign any close contacts of those patients have been infected. The CDC maintains that the risk of spread to the general public remains low.
The CDC also reported Wednesday that it had received 165 samples for coronavirus testing, and 68 have tested negative. Five tested positive, which are the cases already known in Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington. Results of the rest are pending.
It’s a much different situation in China, where more than 6,000 cases have been reported, and 132 people have died.
Senior members of the World Health Organization met this week with Chinese President Xi Jingping to discuss the outbreak, as well as ongoing work to study the virus and control its spread.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was impressed with China’s “extraordinary steps” in the response effort, and that the country is “completely committed to transparency.”
“China deserves our gratitude and respect,” he added.
Still, the illness has spread to at least 15 countries, and the WHO will reconvene its emergency committee Thursday to once again discuss whether to designate the outbreak a global public health emergency. The committee has met twice already on this issue, and twice declined to make the declaration.
“This is still a very active outbreak and information is being updated and changing by the hour,” Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said during a news conference Wednesday.
Such a declaration could help international communication and coordination of illness surveillance and development of potential treatments.
But labeling an outbreak a global emergency can have dramatic effects on political, economic and social conditions in countries, especially related to trade and border control. As such, the WHO doesn’t issue such declarations often. It did so in 2009 during the H1N1 flu pandemic, in 2014 for outbreaks of polio in the Middle East and Ebola in West Africa, in 2016 during the Zika virus epidemic, and in 2019 for Ebola in Congo.
China has received broad praise from scientists around the globe for quickly releasing the entire genetic sequence of the new coronavirus. That’s helped in the development of diagnostic tests for the virus, as well as early work in therapeutics and vaccines.
“The challenge is great, but the response has been massive, and the Chinese government deserves huge credit for that response and for transparency,” Ryan said.