Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services for the use of military facilities to accommodate 1,000 people who might have to be quarantined thanks to the new coronavirus upon arrival from foreign countries. A statement on Saturday from the Defense Department said HHS officials have sought the use of multiple facilities that would hold at least 250 people in individual rooms by Feb. 29. According to the report, HHS would be responsible for all the care, transport and health of the evacuees.
The viral epidemic first originated in China, where on Saturday the death toll increased to 259. Some 11,900 people worldwide are infected with coronavirus, the vast bulk of them from mainland China. An order signed by President Donald Trump on Friday temporarily blocks admission for foreign nationals who have visited China within the last 14 days, excluding the immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Americans arriving from China will be allowed entry, but will face inspection at select arrival points and will be expected to complete 14 days of self-screening to ensure that they do not pose a risk to public health. All who travel from the Hubei province, the hub of the outbreak, will be subject to obligatory quarantine lasting up to 14 days.
The Department of Defense's designated facilities are the 168th Battalion, Regional Training Institute, Fort Carson, Colorado; Travis Air Force Base, California; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, CA. Around 200 Americans are now quarantined at a military base in Southern California upon being evacuated from Hubei provincial capital, Wuhan. None of the Americans residing at Riverside's March Air Reserve Base have shown signs of infection, but it could take up to two weeks for someone infected to get ill.
The U.S. will also begin diverting all flights to the U.S. from China to seven major airports at which travelers can be screened for illness, beginning Sunday.