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February 7, 2020

What it's like to be quarantined for the new coronavirus

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    The United States last week evacuated hundreds of Americans from China because of the new coronavirus, and the evacuees now are subject to mandatory quarantines at U.S. military bases. Here's an inside look at life in one of the quarantine bases—which offers catered meals, Zumba classes, and "real soap," according to a few evacuees.

    Weekly line: The 'recurring themes' of disease outbreaks

    US evacuates hundreds of Americans from Wuhan, as cases of new coronavirus surpass 28K

    Reports of the new coronavirus first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of the virus, called 2019-nCoV, are fever and lesions in both lungs. Some patients also have reported difficulty breathing, WHO said.

    Officials in China said there were 636 reported deaths linked to the virus as of Friday. A vast majority of the deaths occurred in mainland China, but Hong Kong and the Philippines each have reported one death linked to the virus.

    Officials as of Friday reported more than 31,400 cases of the virus globally, with more than 31,100 of those cases reported in China. Officials have reported about 300 cases of the new coronavirus outside of mainland China, including 12 confirmed cases in the United States.

    HHS Secretary Alex Azar last week declared a public health emergency in the United States over the virus, and the Trump administration has implemented certain quarantine policies and travel restrictions under the proclamation. For example, the administration ordered that all passengers on flights to the United States who were in China's Hubei province at any point in the last two weeks be subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine. The Department of Defense has prepared four military bases in California, Colorado, and Texas to hold Americans who return to the United States and must be quarantined.

    Last week, CDC evacuated a group of 195 Americans from Wuhan who are now in quarantine at March Air Reserve Base in California. Officials on Wednesday evacuated 350 additional people from Wuhan who are quarantined at Travis Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California.

    According to CNN, U.S. officials scheduled two more flights to evacuate Americans from Wuhan this week, with one flight heading to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and the other headed to Eppley Airfield in Nebraska. According to the Department of State, those likely were the department's last evacuation flights out of Wuhan.

    What it's like to be quarantined

    Before their evacuations, passengers on the flights were screened for symptoms of the new coronavirus. Officials also monitored and screened passengers continuously during the flight and after landing, according to the State Department.

    Passengers who show any signs of infection during the flight or after landing are taken to local hospitals for evaluation. On Wednesday, five evacuees who showed symptoms of the virus were transported to medical centers, according to CDC.

    But passengers who don't show any symptoms of the virus are transported and remain for 14 days at quarantine quarters on one of the military bases, where they are free to roam the quarantined areas without face masks or protective gear—though officials recommend evacuees stay six feet away from each other, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, the quarantine areas typically are inns, hotels, or recreation centers located on the military bases.

    For the passengers who were on the United States' first evacuation flight out of Wuhan last week, their quarantine period at the March Air Reserve Base is scheduled to end Tuesday. Officials this week informed the evacuees that all of their initial coronavirus tests had come back negative, but they would still have to remain in quarantine for the full 14 days, the Associated Press reports.

    At the Air Reserve Base, evacuees are provided with catered meals that include noodles, chicken, breakfast burritos, and kid-friendly options like chicken nuggets, according to Matthew McCoy, one of the quarantined Americans at the base. The evacuees also have access to toiletries, a coffee machine, and children's toys that were donated by a nonprofit group to help them feel more comfortable at the base, McCoy said. "Real soap, not hotel soap. We're talking Irish Spring and Zest," he noted.

    The supplies have helped the group make the most of their situation and establish a kind of community, AP reports. Each day, evacuees take part in Zumba classes, morning jogs, and business lectures, and the children can make chalk art outside. The evacuees also hold daily "town hall[s]" where they receive updates from CDC officials, McCoy said.

    Last weekend, the group even held a Super Bowl pizza party outside their rooms. And the group is planning one last party and a flag football game before they return to their homes, AP reports.

    "It's not a cruise ship, you know, but we're trying to make it as an overall team," McCoy said, adding that he hopes other groups of evacuees do the same. "We're still humans."

    Elsewhere, evacuees who arrived in the United States this week have reported receiving updates about their health. Jarred Evans, a professional football player in China and one of those evacuees, said people are friendly and generally in good spirits. Evans said being quarantined for 14 days is "the most important thing we can do for the American people and the safety of our friends and family and community."

    But Christopher Braden, the lead CDC representative at one of the bases, acknowledged that the evacuees are in "a difficult situation," as some try to adjust to being separated from their lives in China. "We need to do what we can to make sure that they're well cared for" (Cheung, CNN, 2/6; Karimi/Almasy, CNN, 2/6; Taxin/Spagat, Associated Press, 2/6; Jordan/Bosman, New York Times, 2/5; Associated Press, 2/7).

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