The 14 coronavirus-stricken Americans evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan were flown back to the US on a plane full of healthy people against advice from the CDC, a report said Thursday.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials argued the 14 infected Diamond Princess passengers shouldn’t be flown back with the about 300 virus-free people — but ultimately lost the battle to the US State Department, according to The Washington Post.
“It was like the worst nightmare,” an anonymous senior U.S. official involved in the decision told the paper.
“Quite frankly, the alternative could have been pulling grandma out in the pouring rain, and that would have been bad, too.”
Test results had found that the 14 passengers were infected prior to boarding planes to the US on Monday.
“Nobody anticipated getting these results,” said another U.S. official.
The State Department had vowed that no one with the infection would be allowed on — but then urged health officials to let the sick, yet symptom-free, passengers board, the paper reported.
The CDC worried about infection control aboard the planes. Principal deputy director Anne Schuchat wrote to the State Dept. that the stricken passengers would pose “an increased risk to the other passengers,” according to the report.
But officials with the Department of Health and Human Services and the coronavirus task force pushed back, arguing that they had been prepared to handle passengers who might develop symptoms on the flights.
The two Boeing 747s had 18 seats cordoned-off with 10-foot-high plastic on all sides and infectious disease doctors would be on board.
William Walters, director of operational medicine for the State Department, said the 14 people were already in the evacuation pipeline and protocol dictated they should be brought home, according to the report.
The State Dept. revealed that the 14 evacuees had tested positive for the virus about an hour before the planes landed in California and Texas.
Other passengers were enraged that they hadn’t been told about the risk.
“We were upset that people were knowingly put on the plane who were positive,” said Vana Mendizabal, 69, a retired nurse who took the cruise with her husband Mario.
“I think those people should not have been allowed on the plane,” she added. “We feel we were re-exposed. We were very upset about that.”