With high-fives, hugs and a celebratory tossing of protective face masks into the air, a quarantine of nearly 200 people who were evacuated from the Chinese epicenter of the deadly coronavirus and housed for two weeks at March Air Reserve Base came to an end Tuesday.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, shared a photo online of some of the quarantined group tossing their surgical masks into the air, in a scene reminiscent of a high school graduation ceremony. Charter buses are expected to be brought to the base to transport the 195 people to airports en route to their various final destinations.
“People who have not developed symptoms will have successfully completed their quarantine and will be free to leave the base,” Kaiser said Monday. “To date, no one has tested positive for novel coronavirus among the 195 in quarantine. Two individuals with symptoms were re-tested and also found to be negative, and they since recovered.”
Over the last two weeks, two children became feverish and were taken to Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley, where they were placed under isolation — each accompanied by a parent — for observation. Both minors and their parents were permitted to return to the quarantine site after lab results confirmed no presence of coronavirus.
Kaiser expressed concern about elevated fears tied to the virus leading to inappropriate behavior.
“Unfortunately, some people with concerns have taken them out on the families and households of people working at March Air Reserve Base,” he said. “There have been comments made that have been hurtful — both in person and on social media — that are often based on incorrect or incomplete information. A few base workers have even been accosted in uniform. This is not acceptable and needs to stop.”
The doctor stressed that base employees and visitors, as well as residents in the immediate area, “are not at increased risk for exposure to the new virus.”
“They have had no contact with the evacuees, whose area is fully separated from base personnel,” Kaiser said. “You do not need to exclude household or family members of MARB personnel.”
He said efforts to ensure county residents are protected from viral transmission are ongoing.
“We are working with state and federal partners to take every precaution to protect this community, and we will take immediate action if any person being monitored develops symptoms of 2019-nCoV. So far no cases have been detected, and we don’t expect it to happen, but we are ready if it does.”
Kaiser told the Board of Supervisors last week there was minimal likelihood of a coronavirus threat locally, saying “the flu is going to kill more residents than coronavirus.”
He was unsure whether the federal government would place any more quarantine cases at March. Four other military bases nationwide have been designated as quarantine sites, including Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego County.
The coronavirus epidemic has claimed more than 1,000 lives in China, exceeding the death toll of the severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS — outbreak of 2003. More than 40,000 infections have been documented in China, with a few hundred in other countries, according to the World Health Organization. The respiratory illness is treatable, and many patients are recovering, health officials said.
Federal officials said there have been 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with seven of those in California, including one case each in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. Temporary quarantine and processing sites have been established at major airports, including LAX.
The virus was first identified publicly by the Chinese government on Dec. 31, when authorities indicated an unknown pneumonia variant was impacting residents of Hubei province. Since then, the 2019-nCoV has spread to several dozen countries, according to WHO.