One of the 57 Americans being monitored at Camp Ashland for the new coronavirus was taken Friday to the Nebraska Medical Center campus for evaluation and testing after she developed a cough.

The woman was tested for the new coronavirus. If the first test comes back negative, it will be repeated in 24 hours, per recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the second test is negative, the woman will be taken back to the camp, which is near Ashland, about 30 miles southwest of Omaha.

Overnight, officials said, the woman developed some “extremely mild” respiratory symptoms — a mild cough, no fever. Acting out of an abundance of caution, CDC officials decided to bring her to the National Quarantine Unit. That’s in a building separate from those where patients receive care at the Nebraska Medical Center.

The 57 people arrived in Omaha last Friday from the Wuhan area of China, the center of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. As of Friday, they were in the ninth day of their 14-day quarantine, said Capt. Dana Hall, incident commander with the U.S. Health and Human Service’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness at Nebraska Medicine, said officials planned from the start to observe a “low threshold” in terms of the steps they would take if one of the quarantined people at Camp Ashland developed symptoms.

“That’s really out of a lot of caution, but that’s what we said we would do,” she said.

Officials said Friday they could not speculate how likely it is that the woman has the virus.

Dr. Mike Wadman, co-medical director of the National Quarantine Unit, said other respiratory illnesses are circulating in the community. And there are lots of other causes of coughs.

The woman does have relatives at the camp, Schwedhelm said. If she were to test positive — Schwedhelm emphasized that’s “a big if” — the CDC has said it may extend the quarantine of her close contacts but not of all the other returned Americans at the camp.

Federal team members are playing the lead role in monitoring the woman during her time at the quarantine unit in Omaha, as they are with the travelers at Camp Ashland. Nebraska Medical Center staff is not interacting with the quarantined travelers.

The CDC confirmed that the Ashland travelers were on the same airplane as a person under quarantine in San Antonio, Texas, who has been diagnosed with coronavirus disease, now known as COVID-19.

The agency is tracing contacts to determine whether any of the Ashland travelers were sitting near the Texas traveler. All of the passengers on the flight were wearing masks and keeping their distance from other travelers.

Coronaviruses are respiratory illnesses, which typically are spread by droplets produced when people cough or sneeze. Based on what’s known about the viruses, the CDC has said, the virus can travel only about 6 feet.

The test for the virus takes about six hours to run. Testing is being done at the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory, which is on the medical center campus.

The woman had a cough Friday during the twice-daily health checks being conducted at the camp. She was taken by an ambulance that has been posted at the camp since the travelers arrived.

If the woman were diagnosed with the virus and continued to have mild symptoms, she likely would continue to stay in the 20-bed quarantine unit. The nation’s only federal quarantine center is situated in the newly opened Training, Simulation & Quarantine Center on the ground floor of the $121.8 million Davis Global Center at 42nd and Emile Streets.

An ill traveler who required hospitalization probably would be housed in the 10-bed Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, which also is at the med center.

Hall said the other travelers are doing well. In addition to celebrating the birthday of a boy who turned a year old earlier this week, they also held a birthday party for a 43-year-old traveler. On Friday, they were hiding valentines for the children — there are 14 — at the camp. One of the travelers requested a guitar and has been playing for them.

“There’s been something fun happening every day,” Hall said.

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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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