SACRAMENTO (CNN/CBSLA) — Authorities have confirmed that 14 Americans who were evacuated from a cruise ship off the coast of Japan and flown back to the United States late Sunday night and early Monday morning have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The patients are among the more than 300 U.S. citizens removed from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is docked off the Japanese port city of Yokohama, and flown to military bases in Northern California and Texas, according to a joint statement Monday from the U.S. Departments of State and Health and Human Services.
U.S. officials were notified that the 14 had tested positive for coronavirus during the evacuation process, after passengers had disembarked the ship, the agencies said. The passengers had been tested two to three days before the evacuation flights.
The 14 patients, none of whom have yet displayed symptoms, were flown back in isolation.
"After consultation with HHS officials, including experts from the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the State Department made the decision to allow the 14 individuals, who were in isolation, separated from other passengers, and continued to be asymptomatic, to remain on the aircraft to complete the evacuation process," the agencies said.
One charter flight carrying evacuated Americans arrived at Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield, Calif., around 11:28 p.m. Sunday. A second arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in San Antonio, Texas at 3:56 a.m. Monday.
It's unclear how many coronavirus patients were on each flight. The rest of the passengers aboard the two flights were being closely monitored.
After the flights land, any passengers that developed symptoms on the flights and those who had already tested positive will be transported to "an appropriate location for continued isolation and care."
"Any who become symptomatic will be moved to the specialized containment area, where they will be treated," the statement said.
The remaining passengers will remain under quarantine for 14 days.
According to the Associated Press, a total of 454 cruise ship passengers and staff had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday.
Before the announcement about the infected flight passengers, some Americans aboard the Diamond Princess said they didn't want to take a chance being evacuated for fear they would be subject to possible infection.
Sacramento resident Matthew Smith told CBS Sacramento 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. "It kind of didn't make any sense if the us was fearful that these were infected people which is why they're going to quarantine them for another 2 weeks to have thrown them all together"
Smith's wife Katherine Codekas was met with some surprise when she told authorities that she and her husband weren't going to go with the other American evacuees, KOVR reported.
"They came back around again and I said, 'no we're not going,' and they very sincerely wished us luck but there was a little look of surprise on their face," Codekas explained.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that a Los Angeles laboratory will take part in testing patients who are showing flu-like symptoms for the coronavirus.
Last week, a quarantine expired for nearly 200 American evacuees who had been flown in from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus is believed to have started. At last count, 15 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 7 in California.
According to the CDC, coronavirus is spread from person-to-person through close contact, usually within 6 feet, and mainly via respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. People are likely most contagious when they are most symptomatic.
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