A group of passengers at risk of falling ill to novel coronavirus landed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on Friday.
The charter flown by Yipsilanti., Mich.,-based Kalitta Air landed at 12:23 p.m. It was carrying evacuees from Wuhan, China, where the deadly virus first emerged in late December. The number of passengers wasn’t known.
A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Amy Rowland, said Friday she did not have details about the flight or the passengers.
Passengers on the flight have been screened for any signs of illness multiple times during their journey, including when the plane refueled at Travis AFB in California.
Rowland said CDC wouldn’t know whether any of the passengers had the coronavirus until tests had been done and lab samples had been returned.
“That can’t happen in a matter of minutes,” she said.
The passengers are the first of up to 250 who could come to Lackland, one of four bases that will house Americans evacuated from China, where the coronavirus outbreak has struck thousands and claimed hundreds of lives.
The evacuees arriving in the Alamo City are among 1,000 leaving China. Some arrived Thursday at Travis and at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, also in California.
Once on the ground, the evacuees will be under guard by federal marshals, who will patrol a fenced perimeter around the hotel where they will be housed. Specially trained contractors will feed them and handle housekeeping chores at the Gateway Inn, a lodging facility on Lackland.
Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the division of high-consequence pathogens and pathology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said no one on the base would have contact with the evacuees, who will remain under a quarantine that will start from the time their plane leaves China and last for 14 days.
That’s believed to be the approximate incubation period of the virus. If more coronavirus cases are identified, the quarantine period could be extended.
As of Friday, more than 31,000 cases have been reported along with more than 600 deaths, but the numbers are growing. Transmission is thought to be person to person in China, and there are a growing number of cases among travelers.
Coronavirus cases have been reported in 28 countries. In the United States, 12 cases have been reported in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington. Earlier in the week, a case was reported in Wisconsin as well.
CDC officials have stressed that the risk of transmission of the coronavirus to the general public is low.
While conceding that not everything is known about coronavirus, with the CDC’s McQuiston calling it “a brand-new, emerging virus” that scientists are still learning about, she stressed that “the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time. For Americans, the biggest risk continues to be travel to China,” the epicenter of the outbreak, or caring for people who have been sickened by the virus.