Nearly 200 U.S. State Department employees and their loved ones who were quarantined for two weeks at March Air Reserve Base for possible coronavirus exposure in China completed their isolation Tuesday without any sign of the illness and are returning to their homes, amid great relief and celebration.
“All 195 individuals completed the quarantine period and have been deemed safe to re-enter their communities,” Dr. Nancy Knight with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said during a news briefing just outside the base. “They completed their quarantine and pose no health risk to themselves, families, work, schools or communities.”
The isolated group was brought from Wuhan, China, on Jan. 29 and placed under a precautionary federal quarantine for 14 days, during which two children developed fevers, prompting their placement at Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley for observation. They were tested and confirmed to be free of viral infections, according to the Riverside University Health System.
“All of these evacuees were watched more closely than anyone in the U.S. at this point in time,” Knight said. “There has been no sign of coronavirus whatsoever. There should be no concern about coronavirus from these 195 individuals.”
Knight and Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser both reproached attitudes that have caused difficulties for personnel who work at March ARB.
“The negative social media comments need to stop,” Kaiser said. “Actions like that are not productive, justified or acceptable. Someone should not be ostracized or outed. They don’t need to shunned.”
Knight agreed, saying “fear and stigma” stemming from the quarantine were inappropriate. She said the CDC had received reports of a child whose mother works at March being ridiculed at school like an outcast, and a woman seeking a change in housing being denied the opportunity to apply because she is a base employee.
“Discrimination has been a significant problem,” Knight said, emphasizing that the evacuees should not be marked because they underwent a precautionary quarantine. “These people do not have the virus, and it’s important that they go back into their communities and be accepted.”
According to the physician, the 14-day quarantine was to ensure adequate time to determine whether the virus might incubate within any of the evacuees.
“We believe the risk to the general public in the U.S. from coronavirus is extremely low,” Knight said. “We will continue to work with our state and local partners to ensure the public is informed and understands we’re taking every measure to keep America safe.”
She said two travelers who recently left China and flew into Los Angeles International Airport have been placed under quarantine at March, separate from the 195 allowed to leave the base. The individuals are not presenting any symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath, Knight said.
U.S. Consul General to Wuhan Jamie Fouss said he and the other evacuees made the most of their time in the cordoned off space on the west side of the base, engaging in trivia games, art classes, Zumba classes and other activities.
“After being given a clean bill of health, we’re thankful,” Fouss said tearfully. “It was a good experience, and we hope to have a reunion soon.”
He said the consulate has been temporarily shuttered.
One of the Wuhan evacuees told KCBS2 he was looking forward to getting back to New York to see his mother “and give her a big hug.”
“She’s been worrying a lot, so that’s probably the most important thing I’m going to do right now, is see my mother,” Jarred Evans said.
He thanked federal officials for looking over the group and closely monitoring their health. But he said he is still concerned for his friends in China.
“All my friends are still back in Wuhan, and it’s not getting any better at this time,” he said. “It hurts me to say that I’m able to go home to my family … while those back home in Wuhan are still dealing with this virus.”
Kaiser said efforts to ensure county residents are protected from viral transmission are ongoing.
“We are working with state and federal partners to take every precaution to protect this community, and we will take immediate action if any person being monitored develops symptoms of 2019-nCoV,” the doctor said. “So far no cases have been detected, and we don’t expect it to happen, but we are ready if it does.”
Along with March, four other military bases nationwide have been designated as quarantine sites, including Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego County.
The last federal quarantine was in 2007 and involved a traveler who arrived in the country with a rare form of tuberculosis. Prior to that, in 1963, a traveler with smallpox was quarantined by federal officials, according to the CDC and published reports.
The coronavirus epidemic has claimed more than 1,000 lives in China, exceeding the death toll of the severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS — outbreak of 2003. More than 40,000 infections have been documented in China, with a few hundred in other countries, according to the World Health Organization. The respiratory illness is treatable, and patients are recovering, health officials said.
There have been 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with seven of those in California, including one case each in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. Temporary quarantine and processing sites have been established at major airports, including LAX.
The virus was first identified publicly by the Chinese government on Dec. 31, when authorities indicated an unknown pneumonia variant was impacting residents of Hubei province. Since then, the 2019-nCoV has spread to several dozen countries, according to WHO, which on Tuesday officially dubbed the disease COVID-19.