What we know about the coronavirus, cruise ship evacuees at Lackland

6 cases confirmed in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – As the number of evacuees infected with the novel coronavirus climbed to six on Monday, San Antonio city officials maintain that the risk of the virus spreading to the general public is low.

Last week, evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship landed in San Antonio, just days after an individual became the first to be diagnosed with the novel coronavirus at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

On Friday, two evacuees from the cruise shop tested positive for the virus, officials said.

On Monday, officials confirmed three additional cases among those evacuees.

The virus, which first originated in Wuhan, China, has infected more than 73,000 people globally. In China, more than 1,850 people died after being diagnosed with it.

A total of 145 people remain under quarantine orders in San Antonio after two planes — one from Wuhan and one from Tokyo — arrived at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland.

Here’s what we know so far about the virus and its spread across the globe:

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus actually refers to a family of viruses. The name comes from the shape of the virus, which has little spikes coming out of its edges, like a sun’s corona. But this new strain, commonly referred to as the novel coronavirus, is one that hasn’t been recognized before.

Health officials believe that the virus likely started in animals before it was spread to humans.

SAQ: Why was JBSA-Lackland chosen to hold coronavirus evacuees?

Its symptoms are similar to the flu. A minor case would leave someone with sneezing, coughing, fever and aches. More extreme cases are similar to pneumonia and could be fatal.

Where were the patients taken?

All six evacuees diagnosed with the virus are being treated at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease. Patients are in separate rooms at the facility.

The patients are continuously monitored there as officials work to determine their length of contagiousness.

The facility began accepting patients and evacuees awaiting test results on Feb. 18. According to a news release, 22 rooms were set aside in a wing of the building for the evacuees.

All rooms have state-of-the-art capabilities, including negative air pressure to isolate patients and prevent germs from spreading within the facility.

Care is by members of the Texas Infectious Disease Response Unit, a team of medical professionals organized by the state following the 2014 Ebola outbreak to deploy to hospitals and treat patients who may have a very serious infectious disease.

Officials said they are awaiting more test results and mentioned additional cases may be reported in the coming days.

American Diamond Princess passengers return to U.S.

The State Department said Monday that 338 Americans were evacuated from the ship, which remains docked at Japan’s Yokohama port due to the virus.

A plane carrying 151 passengers arrived at Lackland early Monday morning, and another plane carrying 177 passengers traveled to Travis Air Force Base in northern California.

Seven passengers in each plane tested positive for coronavirus, but they were kept isolated from other passengers on the flight, the U.S. State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement. They were allowed to board the flight because they had no symptoms, officials said.

The seven positive passengers on the Lackland flight were then transported to the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s quarantine unit in Omaha. On the Travis flight, three positive passengers and their spouses were transported to Omaha, while the other four passengers remained hospitalized near Travis.

From quarantined cruise ship to isolation at Lackland: SA native gives first-hand account of coronavirus evacuation

The U.S. said it arranged for the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the new virus. For the departing Americans, the evacuation cut short a 14-day quarantine that began aboard the cruise ship Feb. 5.

About 60 Americans remain in Japan, including those who chose to remain on the ship and those who were hospitalized.

First evacuee at JBSA -Lackland diagnosed with novel coronavirus

The evacuee, who was a solo traveler under federal quarantine orders after returning from China, was reported to have a fever on Tuesday, Feb. 11, according to Captain Jennifer McQuiston, the deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.

The infection was confirmed through a lab test the following night.

The patient was being treated at Methodist Hospital Texsan, but has since been taken to the Texas Center for Infectious Disease.

The individual was transported in a specialized ambulance, officials said.

The San Antonio Fire Department is using a specialized ambulance to transport people suspected of contracting the coronavirus.
The San Antonio Fire Department is using a specialized ambulance to transport people suspected of contracting the coronavirus. (KSAT)

Why was JBSA-Lackland chosen to hold coronavirus evacuees?

When KSAT asked officials at Lackland why the base was chosen as a quarantine site, they said the Department of Defense chose it because it has the resources required to meet the needs of this effort.

“JBSA has some of the largest lodging capacity in the DOD, including the most single rooms without shared bathrooms, space to isolate quarantined passengers from the rest of the installation and local population, and easy access to world-class medical facilities in the San Antonio community,” officials said in a statement to KSAT.

Officials said Lackland has a flight line with secured boundaries that are capable of receiving large commuter aircraft.

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Recovery in the U.S.

According to the World Health Organization and the CDC, three people in the U.S. — two in Chicago and one in Seattle — have recovered from the coronavirus. No deaths from the coronavirus have occurred in the U.S.

Other U.S. cities where the new coronavirus has been confirmed include: Boston; San Diego; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Madison, Wisconsin; Orange County, California; Santa Clara County, California; and San Benito County, California.

A real-time map of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world can be found online.

Where it started

Cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China were detected between Dec. 12-29, but the virus was unknown during this period, according to CNN. Chinese authorities announced on Jan. 5 that the virus was not SARS or MERS, and a probe into the outbreak was initiated.

The novel coronavirus, initially named 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization, was identified on Jan. 7. The first death from the coronavirus was reported on Jan. 11.

Timeline: The spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus

On Tuesday, WHO changed the virus’ name to COVID-19; the acronym stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Quarantine process

While many specifics haven’t been released, the CDC and the City of San Antonio have been working in collaboration to minimize the risk to the public.

The federal quarantine orders last 14 days, which is the incubation period for the coronavirus.

“For the most part, the people in quarantine are not doing much association with each other," McQuiston said. "They’re staying strong, they want to come through this 14 days and return to their families.”

The quarantine expired for the first group of evacuees, but remains in place for the travelers flown in from the cruise ship.

Community reaction

Town halls have been held for military personnel and their families, giving officials an opportunity to address their concerns and questions.

Those meetings were not open to the public, but it’s important to note the quarantined individuals are isolated from the general population and restricted to their living quarters on the base.

When asked about the fear some residents have about the virus spreading to the general public due the base’s designation as a quarantine zone, McQuiston offered a passionate response.

Precautions you can take

Like preventing the flu, health officials say residents should wash their hands often, and disinfect surfaces and commonly used countertops. Disinfectants have proved effective in killing the virus, McQuiston said.

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