A plane carrying nearly 200 U.S. citizens evacuated from Wuhan, China – the epicenter of a deadly coronavirus outbreak – has landed at a military base in California after briefly stopping in Alaska on Tuesday night to refuel.
The Boeing 747 with red and gold stripes and no passenger windows, landed at March Air Reserve Base on Wednesday morning, just after 8 a.m. local time. The plane was initially headed to Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County but was diverted to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County “for the logistics that they have,” according to an official.
A team dressed in white protective suits could be seen gathered near the airplane after it landed, and three charter buses were parked nearby. A statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the team was made up of CDC medical officers who were deployed to again assess the health of passengers.
Passengers were subject to temperature checks and observed for respiratory symptoms. Any passenger exhibiting symptoms would be transported to a hospital for further evaluation, the CDC said. Those who are not exhibiting symptoms are being asked to stay "on the base in housing to allow CDC medical officers to perform more thorough screening and to better understand each individual's exposure."
All passengers onboard had already passed two screenings in China and were screened twice more while refueling in Anchorage, Alaska. One passenger received medical attention for a minor injury that occurred before boarding the plane, the Associated Press reported.
During the flight, the crew remained on an upper level of the plane away from the passengers and did not get off the plane in China.
"The CDC is committed to protecting the health and safety of Americans," the CDC said in a statement Wednesday. "At this time, we continue to believe the risk of coronavirus exposure to the general public is low. CDC is taking these measures to assess and care for these returning Americans to protect them, their loved ones and their communities."
The Department of Defense said it was ready to "providing housing support to Health and Human Services (HHS) as they work to handle the arrival of nearly 200 people, including Department of State employees, dependents evacuated from Wuhan, China."
"DoD has assessed this support will not negatively impact readiness or critical operations, and we stand ready for their arrival," Alyssa Farah, Department of Defense press secretary, said in a statement. "HHS is responsible for all care of the evacuees, and DoD personnel will not be directly in contact with the evacuees and evacuees will not have access to any base location other than their assigned housing. Should routine monitoring of the evacuees identify ill individuals, HHS has procedures in place to transport them to a local civilian hospital."
Farah said the DoD will continue to monitor the situation.
"The department's primary responsibility at this time is the safety of our force, our families and our base communities," she said.
The outbreak has sickened nearly 6,000 people and been linked to at least 132 deaths. The number of cases confirmed in mainland China has now surpassed those that were sickened during a SARS outbreak in 2002-2003. However, the coronavirus death toll still remains lower than the 348 people in China who were killed by SARS.