Plane Evacuating 201 Americans From Center of Coronavirus Outbreak Arrives in SoCal

All of the 201 passengers had already been through two screenings in China and were screened twice more in Anchorage by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What to Know

  • All 201 passengers had already been through two screenings in China and were screened twice more in Anchorage by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The Americans will undergo additional health screenings in California and will be temporarily housed there
  • The Americans aboard the white cargo plane left Wuhan before dawn Wednesday, China time

A plane evacuating 201 Americans from a Chinese city at the center of a virus outbreak arrived Wednesday in Southern California after everyone aboard passed health screenings.

The Americans aboard the white cargo plane left Wuhan before dawn Wednesday, China time, stopped in Alaska to refuel, then continued on to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, where the flight landed at about 8 a.m.

All the passengers had already been through two screenings in China and were screened twice more in Anchorage by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before departing for March Air Reserve Base about 65 miles east of Los Angeles in Riverside County. 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 an early morning news conference after the plane left.

The U.S. government chartered the plane to fly out diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, where the latest coronavirus outbreak started, and other Americans. The plane landed Tuesday night in Anchorage. The Americans will undergo additional health screenings in California and will be temporarily housed there for a period of time as they finish the repatriation process, officials said.

"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.

The state had initially 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.

Confirmed Coronavirus Cases

Source: NBC News, staff reports
Updated: Jan. 26, 2020 at 3 p.m.

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.

The plane is now scheduled to land at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, instead of the original plan to go to Ontario International Airport in neighboring San Bernardino County.

The CDC says to stay home when you're sick, wash your hands, and don't panic. Tony Shin reports for the NBC4 News at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.

Curt Hagman, an Ontario airport commissioner, said the Centers for Disease Control announced the diversion.

"We were prepared but the State Department decided to switch the flight" to the airbase, Hagman said.

Officials at the Ontario airport 35 miles east of Los Angeles had been readying facilities to receive and screen the repatriates and temporarily house them for up to two weeks -- if the CDC determined that is necessary, said David Wert, spokesman for the county of San Bernardino.

Ontario International Airport was designated about a decade ago by the U.S. government to receive repatriated Americans in case of an emergency overseas, but it would have been the first time the facility was used for the purpose, Wert said.

The coronavirus outbreak was first noted in December in the industrial city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of central China. Since then, more than 5,975 cases have been reported in China, with at least 132 deaths.

Los Angeles County's top public health official said Tuesday residents should not be alarmed about the coronavirus, despite the spread of the disease in China and the growing number of deaths attributed to it.

"At this moment, (there is) absolutely nothing to be afraid of," Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors.

The first case of coronavirus in Los Angeles County was confirmed Sunday. The patient was a traveler returning through Los Angeles International Airport home to Wuhan City, China, which is the epicenter of the deadly disease. The person felt sick, told officials and is now being treated at a local hospital well-equipped for the task, Ferrer said.

The individual came into "close contact with a very small number of other people," she said.

The only people who should be concerned are those who have been in close contact with someone with a confirmed case of the disease for at least 10 minutes, according to Ferrer.

The CDC's guidance indicates people who have casual contact with a case -- "in the same grocery store or movie theater" -- are at "minimal risk of developing infection."

Ferrer provided reassurances about the trajectory of the disease in the United States to date, given that it has been circulating in China since early December and despite extensive travel between the two countries, only five U.S. cases have been confirmed.

"In China, the situation is dire," Ferrer told the board. "What happened in China is not what's happening in the United States right now."

On Saturday, the Orange County Health Care Agency confirmed a case of coronavirus after a traveler from Wuhan tested positive. The two Southland cases are the only confirmed cases in California so far, and two of five in the United States. The other U.S. cases were reported in Arizona, Illinois and Washington state, according to the latest available data on the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials in San Diego County are awaiting results of tests on a potential case there involving a person who recently traveled to impacted areas in China.

The CDC has expanded screening to 20 airports and will now be screening all travelers from China, not just Wuhan, as of Tuesday night, Ferrer said.

There is no vaccine for the virus, only treatment for the symptoms, but residents can take steps to reduce the risk of getting sick from this and other viruses. Health officials recommend staying home when sick, washing hands frequently and getting a flu shot.

Even if the virus is not spreading in the United States, rumors are.

USC students were shaken by an erroneous late night claim on social media that a student on campus contracted the coronavirus. The school issued a statement Tuesday morning denying anyone on campus was diagnosed with the virus.

For general information about the coronavirus, go to www.cdc.gov.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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