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Officials at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland are expecting planes carrying U.S. evacuees to arrive Friday from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the growing coronavirus outbreak.
Roughly 250 evacuees will be kept under quarantine for 14 days at either the Gateway Inn or Gateway Villa, temporary lodging facilities located on the base, and monitored by officials from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) during their stay.
CDC spokeswoman Amy Rowland told the Rivard Report that the evacuees arriving in San Antonio are people without any symptoms of coronavirus, which includes fever, coughing, sneezing, or shortness of breath.
Those being flown from China to the United States initially will be screened at Travis Air Force Base in California, and any anyone showing symptoms will be taken to a hospital immediately, Rowland said.
“It will only be healthy people arriving here, but because they have been in an area considered the epicenter of the outbreak, they are considered high risk” and will undergo monitoring, she said.
Evacuees will be monitored by CDC employees and will not come into contact with or be allowed in any facilities used by the more than 30,000 military, civil service, and contract personnel who work at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. They will be under guard by federal marshals, who will patrol a fenced perimeter around the two temporary lodging facilities where they are assigned, Rowland said.
Rowland said that the military bases that will house coronavirus evacuees, including two military bases in California and another in Colorado, were selected because of their close proximity to hospitals capable of treating patients who develop symptoms of the virus.
The CDC would not disclose the names of hospitals that would treat patients showing symptoms of coronavirus.
The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District also is working with DSHS and health departments in other states to ensure that any local resident under quarantine at any of the designated military bases outside San Antonio is free of symptoms before being released from quarantine, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said.
“Once the quarantine period is over, those returning to San Antonio will have to check in with the local health department,” which will get the person’s name, flight information, phone number, and address in case follow-up is needed, Bridger said. “We don’t know how many people to expect, but if the last couple of days are any indication, it won’t be a large number,” she said.
Coronavirus infections in mainland China have continued to rise, with nearly 3,700 additional cases and 73 new deaths reported Wednesday alone, authorities said Thursday. China’s total confirmed cases top 28,000, with more than 3,800 of them critical.
In the U.S., 11 people have tested positive for coronavirus, with 76 tests still pending as of Wednesday, according to the CDC.
Dr. Anita Kurian, assistant director of Metro Health’s communicable disease division, said that the risk of coronavirus in San Antonio “is minimal at this time.”
“The risk of exposure is only among folks who are exposed to the virus, and folks [at risk] are being quarantined and isolated away from the general population,” Kurian said. “Anyone working with these people are using masks, gowns, and respiratory protection.”
Rowland said that the CDC team at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland are experts in emergency response and infectious disease, and are familiar with working with federal agencies.
“We know a lot about the virus because it’s a coronavirus, so the decision to quarantine for 14 days are based on sound science about coronavirus,” Rowland said. “Most people have been concerned about workers on base, and how they will be protected, which will be by our CDC team,” which will remain on site until the quarantine is over.