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Coronavirus case is confirmed in Santa Clara County; Americans quarantined at California base

Workers in hazmat suits remove luggage and other cargo from the chartered jet that brought American evacuees from Wuhan, China, to March Air Reserve Base on Jan. 29.
Workers in hazmat suits remove luggage and other cargo from the chartered jet that brought American evacuees from Wuhan, China, to March Air Reserve Base on Jan. 29.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ordered a quarantine of all 195 people from Wuhan, China, who were evacuated to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County this week after fleeing the coronavirus outbreak.

The CDC also confirmed Friday that a Santa Clara County man had tested positive for the virus, becoming the seventh case in the country and the third in the state.

The quarantine will last 14 days — the incubation period for the virus — from when the plane left China, CDC officials said. The mandatory quarantine is the CDC’s first in more than 50 years.

While isolation orders, or the restriction of movement for those already sick, are not uncommon, the CDC’s last quarantine order was issued in the 1960s in connection with the smallpox virus.

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“While we recognize this is an unprecedented action, we are facing an unprecedented public health threat, and this is one of the tools in our toolbox to mitigate the potential impact of this novel virus on the United States,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We would rather be remembered for overreacting than underreacting.”

In Santa Clara County, a man fell ill following his Jan. 24 return from Wuhan and Shanghai, director of Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department Dr. Sarah Cody said Friday. The man has self-isolated at his residence, leaving home twice to seek medical care. Officials are contacting individuals who may have come into contact with him.

Cody stressed the fact that the new case does not increase the public’s risk of contracting the virus.

“We do not have evidence to suggest that the novel virus is circulating in the Bay Area, Santa Clara County or Northern California,” she said.

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Cody also said that despite concerns over the coronavirus, people are more likely to become ill from the flu. According to federal data released Friday, influenza has killed approximately 10,000 Americans since October.

The decision to quarantine the individuals was made in response to reports of new confirmed cases of coronavirus and under the statutory authority of the Health and Human Services secretary, the CDC said Friday. Riverside County health officials said they “fully support the quarantine order.”

CDC officials said tests of people who have been recently infected but have not yet begun experiencing symptoms may falsely indicate they do not have the virus. Therefore, the longer quarantine period is needed to be sure none of the recent arrivals falls ill.

“We do not believe that a negative result on this test means someone is out of danger for developing the disease,” Messonnier said.

The State Department has announced that future travelers from Wuhan can return to the U.S., although the CDC did not provide specific details on what screenings those individuals might face when they arrive.

No legal enforcement has been required to keep the Americans in Riverside County under quarantine, officials said.

The State Department chartered a private plane to evacuate diplomats stationed at the Wuhan consulate, along with their families and others. On Wednesday, the planeload of Americans, including a month-old baby and several teenagers, arrived in California after fleeing the outbreak in China.

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There have been only a handful of coronavirus cases diagnosed in the U.S.,in Los Angeles, Orange and now Santa Clara counties, as well as in Chicago, Arizona and Washington state. But on Thursday, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency over the outbreak, a decision that likely will give health officials a greater supply of resources to combat the infection.

Following a U.S. State Department advisory about the health risks of travel to China, two of the world’s largest airlines have announced a temporary halt on flights to the country. American Airlines announced an immediate suspension of all flights to and from China through March 27. Delta Air Lines said it would suspend all flights to China through April 30, beginning Feb. 6.


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