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13 Americans moved to Omaha facility from evacuation flights, US officials say

More than a dozen Americans evacuated on US-chartered flights from a cruise ship docked in Japan were being tested for the novel coronavirus at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, health officials said Monday.

The 13 patients, who were among 300 Americans quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess for nearly two weeks, had either tested positive for the virus or had a high likelihood of testing positive because of their symptoms said, Dr. Chris Kratochvil, an executive director of the Global Center for Health Security at the hospital in Omaha.

The patients arrived at the hospital early Monday and were awaiting test results. Twelve patients were transported to the hospital’s National Quarantine Center. One patient with a chronic condition was taken to a bio-containment unit for further evaluation, health officials said.

“I think they were relieved to be here. I think they felt comfortable. They saw our teams arrive, and I think we were Nebraska-nice and friendly but also we were confident we could care for them,” Kratochvil said.

In all, 14 passengers from the Diamond Princess had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, US departments of State and Health and Human Services said.

Some were being treated in Omaha and at facilities near Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield, California, said Dr. William Walters of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Medical Services.

A charter flight carrying 177 American evacuees arrived Sunday night at Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield, California, Walters, said. He said 151 people were aboard a flight to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in San Antonio, Texas.

Health officials in Omaha said they are testing the individuals at the medical center.

“We’re not going to make any assumptions about anything that’s passed along verbally. We’re going to go ahead and just test everybody,” said Shelly Schwedhelm, the nurse who has clinical oversight of the quarantine and the biocontainment units.

The patient who was taken to the biocontainment unit was feeling lightheaded and had shortness of breath, said Dr. Mike Wadman, an emergency physician and co-medical director of the quarantine unit. The patent was in stable condition, he said.

The patients in the quarantine unit are being housed in separate rooms, officials said. All patients will stay in the quarantine unit for 14 days regardless of the test results, officials said.

The 13 patients were brought to the medical center after talks with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness Response and local law enforcement, health officials said.

“These individuals were brought here because we have the personnel, we have the facilities, we have the resources and the expertise to handle these kind of individuals,” Kratochvil said.

The quarantine center is a state-of-the art 20-bed unit, according to officials. The biocontainment unit was launched 15 years ago, officials said. The biocontainment unit team cared for three patients with Ebola in 2014, the hospital said.

Carl Goldman, 66, and his wife, Jeri Seratti-Goldman, who were aboard the Diamond Princess, were under quarantine at the Omaha facility.

“I am being tended to by two nurses in full hazmat suits and the doctor who visited me was also in a hazmat suit,” Goldman told CNN.

“My wife and I are in separate wings of this facility and we’re talking to each other via Facetime,” he said.

Goldman said he tested positive for the virus, while his wife tested negative.

Quarantined again

Karey Maniscalco sobbed after learning she and the hundreds of other Americans evacuated would face 14 days of quarantine in the US. They had already been quarantined on the cruise ship since February 4.

“They have sent over a dozen emails assuring us that there would not be an additional quarantine, and they just told us that we’d be re-quarantined for 14 more days,” Maniscalco said.

“I’ve just lost a whole month of my life.”

Passengers arriving to Travis Air Force Base will be housed in the same facility as evacuees who arrived from Wuhan earlier this month, a spokesperson for the base told CNN. New evacuees will be kept in a separate area of the Westwind Inn on the base, the spokesperson said.

A responsibility to keep ‘the American people safe’

Ashley Rhodes-Courter said her parents, who were aboard the Diamond Princess, tested negative for the virus. Gay and Phil Courter are now in Texas, their daughter said.

“This is an incredibly stressful situation, that is being handled as best as it can,” said Rhodes-Courter, who kept in touch with her mother through text messages.

She said: “We are tremendously grateful that our parents are back on US soil receiving all the care and medications they need to hopefully stay healthy.”

Rhodes-Courter said her parents feel a responsibility to keep “the American people safe.”

“They have no intention on spreading this virus. They want to ensure that they are healthy,” Rhodes-Courter said.

Some Americans chose to stay on the cruise ship

Before news broke of the 14 infected flight passengers, some Americans on the Diamond Princess said they didn’t want to evacuate for fear of possible infection.

Sacramento resident Matthew Smith told CNN affiliate KOVR that he would rather deal with issues in Japan than be evacuated and quarantined in the United States.

“We decided we would just face whatever consequences here rather than exposing ourselves to that situation,” Smith said.

His wife, Katherine Codekas, was met with some surprise when she told authorities that she and her husband didn’t want to evacuate yet.

“I said no, we’re not going, and they very sincerely wished us luck,” Codekas told KOVR. “But there was a little look of surprise on their face.”

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