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JBSA-Lackland receives repatriated Americans evacuating China

By Rachel Kersey | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Feb. 10, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —

Ninety-one passengers traveling from China’s Hubei province arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Feb. 7. They evacuated China to avoid infection by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, spreading from the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the global epidemic. 

A Federal Quarantine Order, issued Jan. 31 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, under the statutory authority of Alex Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stipulates that the passengers will remain quarantined for a period of 14 days because it was judged to be in the best interest of the American citizens living in Wuhan to bring them home to the United States. 

“This is in agreement with the CDC’s mission to protect the health of Americans,” said Capt. Jennifer McQuiston, Deputy Director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Ga.

It is important to highlight that passengers arriving from China have not exhibited any symptoms associated with the Novel Coronavirus, but in accordance with the federal order and in an abundance of caution, they will remained quarantined at the Gateway Villas for the duration of their stay.

The perimeters will be fenced off and patrolled by U.S. Marshals.  No JBSA-Lackland employees will be providing services, such as cleaning or food delivery. Instead, a civilian contractor with employees specially trained in the cleaning and servicing of biologically hazardous areas will attend to the passengers’ needs.

The employees will be fitted in personal protective equipment, which could include respirators, gloves, masks and hospital gowns, among other things.

Understandably, the JBSA-Lackland community, as well as the greater San Antonio community, has had some health and safety concerns about this effort and the risk for further contamination and spread of the virus. 

“In the United States, there have not been any fatalities,” McQuiston said. “The risk to Americans remains low.”

In an effort to contain the virus and limit the number of cases, the passengers have undergone and will continue to undergo regular medical evaluations to check their temperatures and screen them for other respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath.

Should any passengers present symptoms of the Novel Coronavirus, they will be dispatched to area hospitals for treatment and further observation.

After the quarantine period is complete, the passengers will return to their homes in-country, and the rooms and the premises of the Gateway Villas will be thoroughly cleaned by a contractor with the proper training.

“The best thing you can do is get a flu shot,” McQuiston stressed. “Practice normal hand hygiene, washing your hands frequently and covering your coughs and sneezes.” 

Coughs and sneezes should be blown into a tissue, preferably, or the upper sleeve of your shirt if no tissue is available, according to the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/etiquette/coughing_sneezing.html.

(Editor's note: An article about the town hall meeting held at JBSA-Lackland can be found at http://www.jbsa.mil/News/News/Article/2080031/dept-of-health-and-human-services-officials-host-jbsa-town-hall-on-quarantine-e/.)