LINCOLN — Fifty-seven Americans who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus in China, arrived Feb. 7 at Eppley Airfield in Omaha by plane after stopping in San Antonio, Texas.
From Eppley, the Americans were taken to Camp Ashland, an Army National Guard facility located on the Platte River, and 32 miles from Nebraska’s capital city, due to the concern that they were exposed to the novel coronavirus while in China.
The evacuees will undergo screenings in a quarantined area as a precautionary measure. As of Feb. 6, the virus has infected 29,258 people and killed 638 worldwide. The CDC confirmed 12 cases of the coronavirus in the United States according to its most recent update, Feb. 7.
According to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the individuals may have contracted the virus while in China.
“We expect confirmed infections among these and other returning travelers from the Hubei province,” Messonnier said.
Dr. Eric Kasowski, the team lead for the CDC Quarantine center in Ashland, said these Americans were living in Wuhan, China, where the virus first broke out.
“We’re taking this action to protect the safety of all Americans; this is part of our aggressive response,” Kasowski said. “Our goal today, tomorrow and always is the safety of the American public.”
The University of Nebraska Medical Center treated three patients with Ebola in 2014 and has experience with treatment, training and quarantine methods for highly infectious diseases.
If any of the Americans staying at Camp Ashland develop physical signs or symptoms of infection, they would be cared for by one of the infectious diseases teams, along with partners from the CDC, at an appropriate location at the Nebraska Medical Center, according to the UNMC website.
The Americans will be screened and monitored for approximately two weeks and will be treated by federal service members who will be instructed to wear personal protective equipment when working in close proximity to those under quarantine in an effort to not spread the virus.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service has given instructions to medical officials to keep those who are under quarantine at least 6 feet away from each other at all times.
These strict concerns are in part because, according to Nebraska Medicine infectious diseases expert Dr. Mark Rupp, there are characteristics of the virus that are still unknown and are yet to be defined.
“We need to be prepared for this virus to come to our shores, which it’s already starting to do, and make sure that we are ready to take care of those patients and do everything we can to try and prevent the spread of this through the population,” Rupp said. “Folks need to start thinking about preparations because what we’ve seen in China is that if we don’t take precautions and don’t take this seriously, it can spread very widely.”
Along with Nebraska, passengers from Wuhan, China, also arrived at Travis Air Force Base in Sacramento, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for screening.
“You need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Rupp said.