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Pentagon designates a 5th US military base for Chinese coronavirus evacuees

U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to the press during a press conference at the Pentagon Briefing Room in Washington, D.C., Jan. 7, 2020. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
February 06, 2020

The Pentagon is using Camp Ashland in Nebraska to quarantine up 75 individuals possibly infected with the coronavirus, the Defense Department announced Wednesday.

Americans evacuated overseas in need of quarantine will be flown to a remote spot at Eppley Airfield in Omaha as soon as Thursday, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and will be transported to the camp.

“DOD personnel will not be in direct contact with the evacuees and will minimize contact with personnel supporting the evacuees,” the announcement read. “Should routine monitoring of the evacuees identify ill individuals, [the DepartmentHealth and Human Services] HHS has procedures in place to transport them to a local civilian medical facility. HHS will also ensure that no evacuated personnel are transferred to any DOD installation if they are infected or ill.”

Nebraska National Guard officials have prepared three buildings with 85 beds at the camp, and Guard officials said evacuees won’t be interacting with guardsmen or employees there.

The HHS also said that planes will arrive at bases in California and Texas. All passengers will be screened for symptoms and are subject to 14 days of mandatory quarantine. It typically takes about two weeks before seeing symptoms of the coronavirus, which part of the reason it has spread so fast.

“The department’s primary responsibility is the safety of our force, our families and our base communities. DOD personnel will follow guidance in the memorandum, ‘Force Health Protection Guidance for the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak,’ to reduce risk,” according to the announcement.

The military has begun to rapidly expand its quarantine efforts since the virus has been spread beyond China. There are 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States at the time of publication.

On Tuesday, two facilities at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar were prepared to house hundreds of Americans returning from China.

Dr. Christopher Braden, a deputy director with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, said the passengers arrival is imminent.

“We’re expecting our first plane of passengers probably later on tonight or tomorrow,” Braden told the Union-Tribune Tuesday.

The Consolidated Bachelor Quarters and the Inns of the Corps at Miramar will house 300 to 350 Americans for 14 days, officials said. Many will be quarantined with families and children.

Braden noted that all passengers have been screen for symptoms of coronavirus before they boarded the plane in China. They will be screened again when they land at Miramar.

“If there is anybody who is ill or who has fever, they are not allowed on the plane,” Braden said. “Once they arrive, another screening is the first thing that we will do on this end and, if there are any people who have symptoms and/or fever, consistent with coronavirus infection, they are transported to a medical facility for a full medical evaluation and isolation.”

In total, there are 24,363 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization, which recently declared coronavirus a pandemic. 191 of those cases are in 24 countries outside China. There are at least 490 dead from coronavirus in China.