All 195 U.S. citizens who flew from Wuhan to Riverside County, California where they were quarantined and tested for the coronavirus from China at March Air Reserve Base, were released from quarantine Tuesday and cleared to begin traveling to their homes in other parts of the country.
Speaking Tuesday during a news conference at the air base, officials said none of the travelers, who have been isolated since Jan. 29, will need medical follow-ups and all will now be able to continue on with their daily lives.
“We want to make sure you understand there should be no concern of novel coronavirus from these 195 individuals. They’ve been watched more than anyone in the United States at this time,” said Rear Admiral Dr. Nancy Knight, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global Health Protection. “This is a huge celebration for all of us at March Air Reserve Base.”
Health officials then circulated a photo that showed members of the group throwing their breathing masks into the air — much like graduates tossing their mortarboards aloft at the end of a commencement ceremony.
Your guide to coronavirus:Everything you need to know about the deadly virus alarming the world
Most of the group left the base Tuesday aboard buses that shuttled them to their respective hotels and airports. Others made arrangements with friends or ride-sharing services to pick them up, while about 20 were expected to remain on base until Wednesday before beginning their trips home.
Jamie Fouss, who served as a U.S. consulate general in Wuhan — one of the 195 Americans who’d been quarantined on the air base — briefly addressed reporters during Tuesday’s news conference. He described the 14-day quarantine as “much easier and better than imagined.”
He said that during the flight from Wuhan, which was on a windowless cargo plane, they received visits from health care officials dressed in hazardous materials suits. And once they had landed, they received a warm welcome from those at March Air Reserve Base, where they had access to services such as Zumba and art classes.
“I had to say today as we took off our masks and were given clean bills of health, we all realized we had gotten through this experience together and made some good friends,” Fouss said. “It was quite a good experience and we hope we’ll have a reunion soon.”
Riverside County Public Health Officer Cameron Kaiser declined to say where members of the group are from in order to protect them, since the coronavirus epidemic has led to incidents of harassment around the world, including in Riverside County.
“I am worried some of these people are going to face an unwelcome homecoming and I don’t want to fuel that,” Kaiser said.
The group at March Air Reserve Base was mostly comprised of U.S. diplomats and their families, and they were the first to be transported to a military facility from China.
While none of the 195 exhibited symptoms of the coronavirus during the quarantine, two children in the group were rushed to Riverside University Health System hospital in Moreno Valley after suffering fevers. Neither tested positive for coronavirus and were allowed to return to base.
An unsettling and misunderstood term:Will the new coronavirus become a pandemic?
On Tuesday, Kaiser described the fevers as illnesses that are common among young children.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that often cause respiratory illnesses in humans and other illnesses in animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.
The actual virus doesn’t have an official name yet. The current designation is 2019-nCoV, with 2019 for year of discovery, n for novel (meaning new) and CoV for coronavirus.
Its spread has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency.
More than 45,000 people have tested positive for the virus worldwide with the majority of them in China. There have been 1,116 deaths as of Wednesday morning.
There have been 13 cases in the U.S. in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. One U.S. citizen diagnosed with the coronavirus has died in Wuhan.
Knight said March Air Reserve Base is among several across the country that have been identified as back-up sites for receiving U.S. citizens evacuating from China.
Health officials say they will continue to monitor the virus and take action to prevent it from spreading, Dr. Nancy Messonnier the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases director, said last week.
“This is the beginning of what could be a long response,” she said. “Right now, we’re aggressively intervening to contain introduction into the United States. If community spread in the U.S. is established, we’ll implement broader measures to mitigate the impact of the virus on our communities.”
Follow Colin Atagi on Twitter: @tdscolinatagi.