Americans who have traveled to China and may have been exposed to the coronavirus could be brought to Nebraska for observation.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services is working on a plan to bring Americans back to the United States, University of Nebraska Medical Center Chancellor Jeffrey Gold said Saturday afternoon. One place they might end up is Nebraska.
The travelers most likely would be U.S. government workers or privately employed Americans who have been in the Chinese city of Wuhan or other areas where people have tested positive for the virus.
Gold stressed that they could be housed in the state as a precautionary measure. The Americans in question would have tested negative for coronavirus but still would need to be observed for 14 days. Gold said it’s extremely unlikely that the people would have the virus.
The coronavirus so far has resulted in 304 deaths in China, the World Health Organization said Saturday. More than 14,550 people have been infected around the world, with most of those cases occurring in China, Reuters reported.
U.S. health officials on Saturday confirmed an eighth case of the fast-spreading virus in the U.S. The person had traveled to China, according to Reuters.
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Some people who have tested positive for the coronavirus have shown no symptoms, which can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Twelve to 15 sites in Nebraska have been considered for housing the people, Gold said. The federal government might use multiple sites in the state or, possibly, none of them, he said.
Gold said he was awaiting word from federal authorities on what they intend to do.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, Douglas County officials and others are involved in the preparation, Gold said.
Hospitals most likely would not be used to house the people, he said. They would be hospitalized only if they tested positive for the virus. The NU med center could, however, be used as a testing facility or lab in this plan, Gold said.
Under a federal health emergency order issued Friday, U.S. citizens who have traveled within the past two weeks to the Wuhan area will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of 14 days. Americans returning from other parts of China will be allowed to self-monitor for a similar period.
Nebraska has played a role in caring for American citizens caught up in past disease outbreaks and has since expanded its capabilities in that regard.
The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit was used to house patients being treated for Ebola virus in 2014. The biocontainment unit, situated within the hospital, has not been activated.
In late 2018, an American physician completed the last 14 days of a 21-day monitoring period in a secure area at the medical center. The physician was exposed to a patient in the Democratic Republic of Congo who tested positive for the virus. The physician did not develop the disease.
The UNMC/Nebraska Medical Center campus is home to the only federal quarantine center in the country, the National Quarantine Unit. That unit consists of 20 negative-pressure rooms designed to hold quarantined people.
The unit is situated within the newly opened Training, Simulation & Quarantine Center on the ground floor of the $121.8 million Davis Global Center on the UNMC campus.
The quarantine unit is separate from the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit.
A look back at the Nebraska Medical Center biocontainment unit’s Ebola patients