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A view of the gates of Camp Ashland, Nebraska, on Saturday. The site is providing temporary lodging for 57 quarantined people in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

After catching up on rest, the 57 travelers who arrived in Nebraska on Friday evening from Wuhan, China, are healthy and doing well at the Nebraska National Guard’s Camp Ashland.

No one in the group of returning Americans has experienced any of the symptoms associated with coronavirus, said Capt. Dana Hall, incident commander with the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

Hall, who spoke by telephone, had just come from a town hall meeting with the travelers Monday afternoon. “They were all doing well, children were playing and everyone was making plans for after the quarantine lifts,” she said.

That will be Feb. 20 — 14 days after the travelers left China. Globally, cases of coronavirus had topped 40,600 by Monday afternoon, with more than 900 deaths, most in China.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar has said more than 800 Americans have been evacuated from Wuhan. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that one traveler quarantined in California had been confirmed with coronavirus, bringing to 13 the number of cases in the United States.

The plane that arrived in Omaha was among four that arrived in the U.S. last week. The others were bound for three Air Force installations — two in California and one in Texas. The plane that landed in Omaha made stops to drop passengers in California and Texas before arriving in Omaha. The number of passengers who came to Omaha was reduced from about 70 to 57 because space was available at the other quarantine locations.

The group at Camp Ashland includes 14 children, ranging in age from about 5 to under a year. One boy’s first birthday is on Tuesday. The travelers will celebrate with a birthday party complete with cake or cupcakes supplied by the vendor providing food for the travelers. One of the adults will celebrate a birthday in a few days.

Hall said the children have been supplied plenty of age-appropriate toys, including books, coloring books, balls and yo-yos. While offers for donations of additional toys from local residents are “a beautiful thought,” she said, the children are well supplied.

Adults have been furnished with an exercise area and Wi-Fi. They’ve also been given iPhones on loan so they can speak with federal caseworkers. The team will be working with the travelers to help them get to their final destination after the quarantine lifts. Nebraska so far is not among those travel plans.

Food is one thing that the team and the food service company has had to adjust. The travelers, for instance, don’t eat a lot of cheese, and the vendor is bringing more rice and vegetables and noodle soups. The travelers can call and make requests.

A medical team is on site at Camp Ashland. Staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention check the travelers’ temperatures in the morning, and the travelers check themselves again in the evening and log the results for the team to review the next day. The team members wear protective gear in accordance with CDC guidelines.

The pilots and crew of the chartered airplane are not under quarantine at the camp. Both the passengers and the crew wore appropriate protective gear on the flight.

Coronaviruses are respiratory illnesses, which typically are spread by droplets produced when people cough or sneeze. Based on what’s known about coronaviruses, they can travel only about 6 feet.

The travelers, Hall said, have been encouraged to maintain that distance and are sticking to it. “They don’t have to wear a mask, but many of them are choosing to,” she said.

The children, she said, are of an age where they’re playing near each other but separately, what’s known as parallel play.

The perimeter of the quarantine area has been fenced off. Those under quarantine won’t be allowed to leave the area, and they will not interact with anyone at the camp. U.S. marshals are guarding the perimeter of the quarantine area.

If someone develops symptoms of the virus, that person would be taken to the Nebraska Medical Center. Where such individuals would be housed there would be determined based on their symptoms.

A traveler with mild symptoms probably would go to the new 20-bed National Quarantine Unit, the nation’s only federal quarantine center. It’s in the newly opened Training, Simulation & Quarantine Center on the ground floor of the $121.8 million Davis Global Center on the UNMC campus.

An ill traveler who required hospitalization probably would be housed in the 10-bed Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, also at the med center. An ambulance company that provides infectious disease transport for the state will be based at the camp 24/7 to transfer patients if necessary.

The medical center, officials have said, is a logical place to care for anyone who might develop the virus. It was one of 10 regional hospitals in the U.S. specially designated in 2017 to manage serious infectious diseases. Three Ebola patients were treated in the biocontainment unit in 2014.

The medical center now is one of three health systems that make up the National Ebola Training and Education Center, which is tasked with sharing its knowledge with other health care facilities and public health agencies. The center now has its own coronavirus webpage.

Hall said the team appreciates the support of the community, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the Guard and others involved in the effort.

“This has been a real community effort,” Hall said, “and it’s through community preparedness that we’re able to provide this service to Americans who are returning home.”

A look back at the Nebraska Medical Center biocontainment unit’s Ebola patients


Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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