American Evacuees From Wuhan To Be Quarantined

Jan 29, 2020, 8:23 AM | Updated: Feb 17, 2020, 12:16 pm
A Boeing 747-4B5(F), on a charter flight from Wuhan, China, arrives at Ted Stevens Anchorage Intern...
A Boeing 747-4B5(F), on a charter flight from Wuhan, China, arrives at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on January 28, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska. The U.S. government chartered the plane to evacuate U.S. citizens and diplomats from the U.S. consulate in Wuhan, China where the coronavirus outbreak began. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

(CNN) — A planeload of hundreds of Americans returning to the US from the epicenter of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak will be quarantined in California for a period of time and passengers will not be allowed to return to their homes immediately.

The announcement came in a press release from the Alaska Department of Health, where the airplane from Wuhan to California stopped for re-fueling.

“Health officials in California are working diligently with the CDC and other partners to prepare for the passengers to arrive in California, where they will be re-screened and temporarily housed for a period of time,” according to the press release.

Tuesday night, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that the passengers will be “monitored for symptoms post-arrival.”

None of the 201 passengers are sick, and quarantining an entire plane of healthy people is “certainly unusual,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a longtime CDC adviser.

“With SARS and Zika, we quarantined individuals, but not a whole airplane,” said Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

It’s not clear for how long or where the passengers will be kept in California. Originally, the flight was supposed to land at Ontario International Airport, and arrangements there were underway to keep them there through at least Sunday, according to a county official there.

Curt Hagman, chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, said Tuesday that an empty hangar at the Ontario airport was being outfitted with beds, phone chargers, and televisions so they could watch the Super Bowl game this Sunday.

Late Tuesday night, while the flight was en route to the US from Wuhan, it was re-routed to March Air Force Base, about 30 miles from the Ontario Airport.

In a video posted to YouTube, Hagman did not give a reason for the last-minute switch.

The decision to quarantine

Quarantining an entire planeload of people is unusual — but the circumstances surrounding the Wuhan coronavirus is unusual.

“There’s much that is unknown about this virus, and so they’re being cautious,” Schaffner said. “I think this is consistent with good public health policy.”

Most significantly, it’s unclear if people who are infected with the virus, but not yet showing symptoms, can spread the disease. Chinese health authorities say asymptomatic people can spread the virus, but US health authorities say they’ve seen no data to suggest that.

The French, Australian, and South Korean governments are quarantining their citizens returning from Wuhan.

On Sunday, French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said that when the French citizens fly home this week, they will be kept in one place to avoid any spread of the virus.

“In order to avoid any spread on the national territory, all the people who are being repatriated will be monitored by health professionals, and will be held for 14 days,” Buzyn said.

On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, announced that Australians being flown out of Wuhan were required to stay quarantined on a remote island off the west coast of Australia.

“Australians departing on any flight arranged by the Australian Government will be flown to Christmas Island to undertake a period of quarantine of up to 14 days based on current medical advice as a condition of their assisted departure,” according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s office. “This will ensure we are also prioritizing public health in Australia.”

In South Korea, citizens returning from Wuhan will be quarantined for 14 days in two government facilities, and will receive medical check-ups twice a day, according to a government statement.

Health authorities believe the incubation period — the time from exposure to the virus until the onset of symptoms — could be as many as 14 days.

Some experts think quarantining healthy passengers is the wrong approach.

Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said that when someone on an airplane is found to have influenza, fellow passengers are not quarantined.

“We don’t do this for the flu, and it’s known to cause 35,000 deaths in the US every year,” he said.

He said quarantining the Wuhan passengers sends the wrong message — that a new, exotic virus from a faraway land is more to be feared than one that is in our midst.

“I can’t understand why they’re doing this. It doesn’t make sense,” Offit said. “I think it sends the message that this is a virus that is particularly to be feared, that it’s more likely to cause deaths than say influenza, which isn’t true.”

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American Evacuees From Wuhan To Be Quarantined