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Pentagon prepared to house nearly 1,000 quarantined people over coronavirus fears

As the Wuhan virus continues its deadly expansion around the globe, the military is ramping up plans to take care of people returning to the United States.

The Pentagon announced February 1 that Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper approved a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services to house 1,000 people who may need to be quarantined upon arrival from overseas travel due to the novel coronavirus.

The viral outbreak began in China, where the death toll rose to 259 on February 1. More than 11,900 people have been infected with the coronavirus globally, the vast majority of them on the Chinese mainland.

A University of Massachusetts-Boston student was confirmed Saturday to be the eighth case of coronavirus in the United States, one day after U.S. officials declared a public health emergency, according to CBS News.

The military, which is only providing housing support, has made facilities available at installations in California, Colorado and Texas. No DoD personnel will be in direct contact with the evacuees, according to a Pentagon media release, nor will evacuees have access to any base location other than assigned housing.

The Pentagon said that HHS is responsible for everything but housing, including all care, transportation, and security of the evacuees, according to a media release. DoD personnel will not be directly in contact with the evacuees and evacuees will not have access to any base location other than their assigned housing.

“In accordance with CDC guidelines, all evacuees will be monitored for a period of 14 days,” the release states. “Should routine monitoring of the evacuees identify ill individuals, HHS has procedures in place to transport them to a local civilian hospital.”

DoD was asked to provide facilities that could handle at least 250 people each.

The Pentagon offered up:

  • 168th Regiment, Regional Training Institute, Fort Carson, Colorado
  • Travis Air Force Base, California
  • Lackland Air Force Base, Texas
  • Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California

Previous DoD CONUS responses

A charter flight carrying 210 evacuees from Wuhan, China, landed at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, on January 29 so passengers could be safely screened for the coronavirus.

The aircraft, carrying U.S. State Department employees, family members and citizens, touched down at the reserve base shortly after 8 a.m. local time. It originally was slated to travel to Ontario International Airport, about 25 miles away. No reason was given for the diversion.

“March Air Reserve Base and the Department of Defense (DoD) stand ready to provide housing support to Health and Human Services (HHS) as they work to handle the arrival of nearly 200 people,” Defense Department Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said. “DoD has assessed this support will not negatively impact readiness or critical operations, and we stand ready for their arrival.”

An airplane carrying U.S. citizens being evacuated from Wuhan, China, takes off at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif. Jan. 29, 2020. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)
An airplane carrying U.S. citizens being evacuated from Wuhan, China, takes off at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif. Jan. 29, 2020. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

On January 31, according to CBS News, U.S. health officials issued a federal quarantine order for the 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. The group will remain at a military base in Southern California until mid-February, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The government hasn’t issued such a quarantine order in over 50 years, Messonnier said.

The quarantine news comes a few days after two combatant commanders warned Congress that the onslaught of the virus will present significant security issues if it moves rapidly to other countries.

“Capacities (in different countries) vary widely,” said Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. “In many places that are strained to the limit, I'd be very concerned if we saw this spread.”

And it follows a January 31 announcement that DoD personnel who have returned from China in the last two weeks — or have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus and are having symptoms like a fever — should receive medical attention immediately, per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

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