March 11, 2020, was a busy day for the world. The Wuhan coronavirus COVID-19 from central China was been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. President Donald Trump announced a temporary ban on all foreign national travelers from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.
WHO reported 118,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths worldwide. The Wuhan coronavirus has been diagnosed on every continent save Antarctica as it spreads.
The key to managing viral outbreaks is to separate known infected people from others as-yet uninfected. On January 23, the central government of China imposed a city-wide quarantine on Wuhan China imposed a lockdown in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province to do just that: contain the contagion at its epicenter.
Quarantine means confining someone who is known to have been exposed to a serious, unusual or new disease for observation of any symptoms of the illness. The length of the quarantine is equal to the longest incubation period of the disease (the time between the initial infection and noticeable symptoms) – two weeks for COVID-19.
On February 2, U.S. officials federally mandated a 14-day quarantine for any American citizen returning stateside after traveling to Wuhan within the previous two weeks.
Since then, U.S. nationals returning from China without visiting Wuhan are sent to one of 11 approved airports for screening. If no virus is detected, the traveler must self-quarantine at home for 14 days, the viral incubation period.
Passengers on vacation cruise ships, confined to their small cabins after the Wuhan coronavirus was diagnosed among several aboard, chafed at the required detention. On February 17, the U.S. State Department allowed 14 U.S. cruise passengers to board a scheduled evacuation flight home after their COVID-19 tests came back positive amid distressed protests from the uninfected travelers forced to share recycled air with contagious sources.
Official procedure for cruise ship passengers up to that point had been to keep all infected passengers under local observation for two weeks to watch for symptoms of the disease. The State Dept. said that the Americans were already in the diplomatic pipeline and nothing could be done at that point.
Today, March 12, we learn that the U.S. Pentagon just approved 11 quarantine camps – called “installation sites” – on military bases near major national airports to detain, quarantine, and monitor up to 1,000 American citizens returning from China.
On February 6, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) issued a formal request to the Defense Department (DoD) to authorize the possible use of military facilities to house up to 220 quarantined travelers expected to return from abroad for the next two weeks.
Five airplanes having returned Wuhan evacuees to the U.S. since the beginning of March. The number of quarantined people is nearly at the capacity initially estimated.
Each of the 11 airport camps, as they are being called, can accommodate as many as 250 patients.
While American states hold the main authority for quarantine within their borders, the Secretary of the DHS has the legal responsibility to control communicable disease within the United States. DHS has delegated that authority to the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine under the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
To meet the need of screening future air travelers returning to the U.S. for COVID-19, Pentagon officials approved new facilities last week near international airports in Hawaii, Illinois, Texas, California, Georgia, New York, Washington state, Washington DC, New Jersey, and Michigan.
About 800 Americans who came home from Wuhan on government charter flights are presently under federally-mandated quarantines at Colorado’s Fort Carson California’s Travis Air Force Base and Marine Corps Station Miramar.
Today, we also learned that quarantine was lifted for the first 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan who arrived in the U.S on a government charter flight on January 29. After two weeks, the international travelers were cleared for release from March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California.
The evacuees threw aloft the face masks they had been forced to wear to celebrate passing their final health screenings.
The last federal quarantine issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was in 1963 when a woman was isolated after being exposed to smallpox. The last case of smallpox in the U.S. had been diagnosed in 1949. By 1980, WHO certified the infectious disease, responsible for 300 million deaths globally, eradicated worldwide.