Recalling the China evacuation flight that landed in Anchorage 1 year ago
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - One year ago on Jan. 28, 2020, a chartered flight from China, landed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
“It was a special moment,” Bill Kays, a former Anchorage Health Department worker, said about the 747 jet that pulled up to the North Terminal. “The first person off that plane had the biggest smile on their face because they had just left a very terrible incident.”
Two-hundred and one American passengers arrived from Wuhan, China, the center of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The plane was making a refueling stop in Alaska before heading to California to quarantine the people on board for two weeks.
“They had basically the clothes on their back because they weren’t allowed to bring items because they were afraid of spreading the disease,” said Kays.
He and five other members of the AHD, as well as personnel from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, screened the passengers for any signs of COVID-19, though not much was known about the virus at that point. Part of that team was Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink.
“The whole plane erupted into cheers when the crew welcomed them back to the United States,” said Zink.
While medical staff and airport employees who took part in the plane’s arrival expressed their desire to help, there was also concern among some Alaskans about the potential risk posed by the flight from Wuhan arriving in Anchorage, and the possibility that it might bring coronavirus to the state.
Health department officials said that if anyone was determined to be showing signs or symptoms of coronavirus, they weren’t allowed to board the flight at all. The passengers and crew were isolated from each other in separate parts of the cabin with separate airflows, and crew members never left the upper part of the plane while in China, officials said.
The screenings took about 45 minutes to complete. None of the passengers showed any signs of the virus. The flight departed Anchorage at around 2:15 a.m., bound for March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Alaska wouldn’t be announced until a month and a half later, when state officials said a crew member of an international cargo flight who was staying in Anchorage tested positive.
For many Alaskans, though, it was the arrival of the flight on Jan. 28 that made the coronavirus seem real. It would be also another month and a half until COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
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