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Cruise Ship Evacuees With Coronavirus Airlifted To Nebraska Hospital

FAIRFIELD (CBS SF) -- The Diamond Princess evacuees who were flown to Travis Air Force Base and tested positive for coronavirus have been airlifted to a special isolation unit the University of Nebraska Medical Center, officials said.

Dr. Christopher Kratochvil, executive director for clinical research with the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC, told the Omaha World Herald that 13 of the evacuees arrived Monday at his facility with "high index of suspicion" for the coronavirus.

Of the 13, doctors said, one patient was taken to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. The 12 others have been placed in the National Quarantine Unit. Omaha was selected as the destination because of the newly opened quarantine unit.

The evacuees arrival ended a long 24 hours of travel from Japan, where the cruise ship has been under quarantine with more than 300 passengers suffering from the illness.

The first of two chartered flights carrying about 300 Americans landed sometime after 11:20 p.m. Sunday at Travis Air Force Base and the second landed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

State Department officials said in a statement that several passengers on the evacuation flights had tested positive for the coronavirus and would be taken to an "an appropriate location" for continued isolation and care.

The announcement nearly doubles the number of confirmed coronavirus victims in the United States to 29, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Coronavirus flight containing cruise ship evacuees lands at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield (CBS)
Coronavirus flight containing cruise ship evacuees lands at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield (CBS)

"These individuals were moved in the most expeditious and safe manner to a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft to isolate them in accordance with standard protocols," officials said of the flights. " 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."

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The passengers will undergo another 14-day quarantine at Travis AFB, Lackland AFB or in Nebraska.

Officials tried to calm local fears that the controversial flight would spread the illness to the nearby Northern California communities.

"Every precaution to ensure proper isolation and community protection measures are being taken, driven by the most up-to-date risk assessments by U.S. health authorities," officials said in their statement. "We continue all possible efforts to protect the welfare of U.S. citizens."

Nearly 4,000 passengers and crew members on the Diamond Princess set sail on January 20, but then docked off the coast of Japan on February 3 after passengers showed symptoms of the illness.

Coronavirus Evacuees
Americans began leaving a quarantined cruise ship off Japan on Feb. 17, 2020 (Feb. 16, U.S. time) to board chartered flights home. (Behrouz Mehri via Getty Images)

As of Sunday, there were 355 cases onboard. The U.S. government evacuated healthy Americans starting Sunday after a nearly two week quarantine because they said they were at high risk of exposure to the virus.

UPDATE: For The Latest Coverage On The Coronavirus Outbreak

Paul and Cheryl Molesky were among the Americans who chose to take a chartered flight organized by the State Department that would take them back to the United States, where they will undergo another two week quarantine under federal requirements.

"We have been in this room on the Diamond Princess for the last 27 days," Cheryl Molesky said in a video she recorded before leaving the ship. "For the last 12 days we have not stepped foot out of this door."


WATCH: Coronavirus Cruise Ship Evacuees Take Additional Quarantine In Stride 

The couple said they spotted buses lining up in front of the ship and asked other guests if they knew what was happening.

"And this guy who was down below us said it's taking Americans off the ship and I said, 'I'm an American,'" said Paul Molesky.

The Moleskys, who've now been quarantined for most of 2020, are taking it all in stride knowing home is finally around the corner.

"I know it's going to be two more weeks," Cheryl said. "We're just ready for the next step on this crazy journey."

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