FAIRFIELD (CBS SF) — Americans landing at Fairfield’s Travis Air Force Base Sunday night tested positive for the coronavirus after being quarantined onboard a cruise ship for weeks amid the outbreak, the U.S. State Department said.
The chartered flight carrying about 300 Americans landed sometime after 11:20 p.m. The 14 passengers who tested positive will be taken to an “an appropriate location,” likely a nearby medical facility, for continued isolation and care, the State Department officials said in a statement.
The announcement nearly doubles the number of confirmed coronavirus victims in the United States to 29, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“These individuals were moved in the most expeditious and safe manner to a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft to isolate them in accordance with standard protocols,” officials said. ” After consultation with HHS officials, including experts from the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the State Department made the decision to allow the 14 individuals, who were in isolation, separated from other passengers, and continued to be asymptomatic, to remain on the aircraft to complete the evacuation process.”
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The other arriving passengers will undergo another 14 day quarantine at Travis AFB and at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
In a Sunday press release, San Luis Obispo County health officers said they had been advised by state and federal authorities to prepare for the possibility that passengers who test positive for coronavirus, but longer require hospitalization, to housed at Camp Roberts for the remainder of a two-week quarantine.
“We understand that a federal team will provide the staffing, food, and medical care at Camp Roberts,” said County of San Luis Obispo Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein in statement. “The County of San Luis Obispo Public Health Department is working to ensure that we protect the health and well-being of San Luis Obispo County residents.”
Officials tried to calm local fears that the controversial flight would spread the illness to the nearby Northern California communities.
“Every precaution to ensure proper isolation and community protection measures are being taken, driven by the most up-to-date risk assessments by U.S. health authorities,” officials said in their statement. “We continue all possible efforts to protect the welfare of U.S. citizens.”
Nearly 4,000 passengers and crew members on the Diamond Princess set sail on January 20, but then docked off the coast of Japan on February 3 after passengers showed symptoms of the illness.
As of Sunday, there were 355 cases onboard. The U.S. government evacuated healthy Americans starting Sunday after a nearly two week quarantine because they said they were at high risk of exposure to the virus.
Paul and Cheryl Molesky were among the Americans who chose to take a chartered flight organized by the State Department that would take them back to the United States, where they will undergo another two week quarantine under federal requirements.
“We have been in this room on the Diamond Princess for the last 27 days,” Cheryl Molesky said in a video she recorded before leaving the ship. “For the last 12 days we have not stepped foot out of this door.”
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The couple said they spotted buses lining up in front of the ship and asked other guests if they knew what was happening.
“And this guy who was down below us said it’s taking Americans off the ship and I said, ‘I’m an American,'” said Paul Molesky.
Two flights took off from Japan–one headed to a military base in Texas, the other to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield. Those with symptoms were banned from the flights,and those who were healthy could choose not to make the trek if they didn’t want to go undergo the additional quarantine.
So far, 44 Americans on the Diamond Princess have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The Moleskys, who’ve now been quarantined for most of 2020, are taking it all in stride knowing home is finally around the corner.
“I know it’s going to be two more weeks,” Cheryl said. “We’re just ready for the next step on this crazy journey.”