Flight evacuating U.S. citizens from Wuhan, China to refuel in Anchorage

Published: Jan. 27, 2020 at 10:14 AM AKST
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More than 200 passengers, all U.S. citizens, are expected to land at Ted Stevens International Airport’s North Terminal to refuel after leaving Wuhan City, China.

The North Terminal is not open to the public. As of Monday at 6:30 p.m. there is no confirmed time that they plane will be landing.

The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Health and Social Services is working to bring back U.S. citizens living in the city, including U.S. Consulate staff and families.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says the passengers are leaving the city following the ongoing outbreak of a novel coronavirus. The timing of the flight was listed solely as "this week" in a release from the department.

DHSS says there are no cases in Alaska of the novel coronavirus or patients under investigation.

As of Jan. 26, 2020, the World Health Organization is reporting 2,014 cases and 56 deaths associated with the outbreak.

“Given Alaska’s proximity to Asia, we have been asked to assist our federal partners in this effort to facilitate travel out of China back to the United States to bring these U.S. citizens home,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy in a press release. “The State of Alaska, in combination with our local, federal and Tribal partners have been working closely to ensure the health and safety of all Alaskans while assisting with this request.”

Health officials say before leaving, all passengers and flight crew will go through health screenings by Chinese health officials and U.S. health officials.

If someone is seen with signs or symptoms of the coronavirus, they will not be allowed to board the aircraft.

“We are thankful to our local, Tribal and federal partners for their strong coordination in this effort to help these U.S. citizens return home during this rapidly progressing outbreak,” said DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum in a release.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer with DHSS, Anne Zink, announced the latest in how state health officials are trying to keep the virus from spreading in Alaska Monday morning.

She said they've been working closely with state epidemiologists, Ted Steven's Airport management, the CDC, and local hospitals in Anchorage and Mat-Su, to prepare for the incoming flight.

Jim Szczesniak, Ted Stevens Airport Manager, said they are currently preparing for the flight to arrive in the north terminal, which is completely separate from the rest of the airport and has its own ventilation system.

"If you're coming to catch a domestic flight you should just do it like you normally do," he said.

Szczesniak said this is a routine procedure at the airport, and CDC workers will be present to facilitate any other quarantine measures.

Part of the preparations at hospitals like Providence Alaska Medical Center are looking into how much space they have to quarantine any potential cases that could arrive on the charter flight.

At Providence infection prevention manager, Rebecca Hamel said they have 30 'negative pressure' rooms for potential cases, as well as a nine-bed unit that can operate the same way.

The negative pressure rooms are patient rooms equipped to keep germs out. Hamel said they have seals and sophisticated ventilation systems that separate the air from the room and filter out all the germs outside. This keeps any potentially airborne coronavirus germs and the like out of the rest of the hospital.

The rooms are also fit with an extra room where doctors and nurses can put on protective clothing, including hoods with oxygen pumps that keep airborne particles away from the health care providers. The room has a separate door to the hallway and to the patient's room that works much like an air-lock in sci fi movies according to patient care technician, Olin Heribal.

Chief Medical Officer at Providence, Michael Bernstein said this type of precaution and treatment is not uncommon at the hospital at all. Employees regularly go through training with the equipment and procedures they could be asked to do if someone on that plane has coronavirus. He acknowledges that there is not a cure for coronavirus at this time, but feels they could get someone to get through the virus with their immune system.

"The illness that we've seen so far with this virus is really no different than a very severe case of influenza and a number of other respiratory viruses" he said, "so they're all things that we have experience dealing with and it's great to have the warning ahead of time like we do with this plane that will be arriving."

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