It’s a beautiful morning at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California. A handful of people are out and about on the grounds, including 27-year-old Jarred Evans. After his morning run, Evans may settle in with his laptop in the hotel where he’s staying on base and do some work for his business. If he were so inclined, he could even go to a Zumba or kickboxing class to pass the time. For the most part, though, he and everyone else at the hotel are keeping to themselves.
They are under quarantine, after all.
Evans and 194 other people were evacuated from Wuhan aboard a chartered flight on January 28th to escape the rapidly spreading coronavirus that has claimed hundreds of lives and put the global community on high alert.
The passengers from Evans’ flight are one of several groups of Americans that have been evacuated from Wuhan. So far, about 500 Americans have been ferried out of the country on chartered flights.
Groups of Americans arriving from China have been taken to military bases, hotels or other sites to wait out a federally-mandated 72-hour waiting period.
From there, it’s a long and sometimes monotonous waiting game. The March Air Base evacuees aren’t beholden to any schedule, except for meal service times, twice-daily medical screenings and morning meetings with the health officials.
Two weeks in limbo
The 195 people on Evans’ flight were ushered to March Air Base for their quarantine, one of the five military bases now being used for such purposes. A few hours after their arrival. a passenger from the flight was caught leaving the base, prompting the CDC to extend their quarantine.
So, Evans and some of his fellow evacuees are whiling away the hours until their two-week period ends.
“Everyone is doing pretty fine. People understand that the quarantine is necessary,” Evans tells CNN. “[They’re] doing a good job keeping us busy and giving us all what we need.” On-site case managers from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) were able to ship Evans’ laptop to him so he could work. Children under quarantine have gotten toys to play with and can participate in organized activities to burn off their nervous energy.
However, the evacuees aren’t able to leave the grounds of the base. No one else is staying in the hotel where they’re being housed. And every day plays out under the watchful eye of health officials.
“We get medical checks twice a day — in the morning and at night. In the morning you get your temperature checked,” Evans says. “We have a meeting at 10 am every day. It’s with some of the medical officials who are here on the base and also with the [ACF] case managers.”
The case managers are there to attend to the evacuees’ needs, whether they be practical, like a work laptop, or more mental health-oriented.
Citizens under federal quarantine are entitled to basic needs, like food and medical care. Evans says the food is nothing fancy, but it will do, and it’s free. Breakfast is usually something like eggs, sausage and a muffin, and lunch could be a sandwich with chips and a pickle.
Playing the waiting game
Evans, who played football at the University of Cincinnati, moved to Wuhan two years ago to play football for the Chinese National Football League’s Wuhan Berserkers.
He’s facing a decision that a lot of other evacuees are probably weighing as well: Where to stay in the states while Wuhan battles the deadly virus that originated within its borders. Evans lives in Miami, but is originally from New York City, where he owns and operates a rideshare company. He’ll probably stay with family there when he’s allowed to leave.
Once the quarantine is over, officials have offered to shuttle evacuees to Los Angeles International Airport so they can get on a flight and get back to their lives.
Until then, evacuees at the hotel are able to talk to their families as often as they’d like. Evans says his family isn’y necessarily worried, just waiting it out. “As long as I am in good spirits when I talk to [my family], they’re in good spirits too,” Evans says.
“We stay to ourselves in the evenings,” Evans says. “We usually eat and then go back to our rooms and do our own thing. People just want to get out of here and get to their families. Everyone is respecting one another.”
“No group hugs or shaking hands though,” he adds.
Leaving behind a ghost town
A two-week quarantine may seem excessive for a disease that is still heavily localized in mainland China, but the Wuhan coronavirus has gotten exponentially more prevalent since it was first recorded in early December 2019. The virus has been confirmed in more than 25 countries and territories, and governments across the world have taken similar evacuation measures to get their citizens home and make sure the virus doesn’t catch hold on their shores.
Evans says when he left Wuhan, there was no panic. There were no cars on the road. No people outside.
There was nothing.
“It’s still a ghost town,” he says.
He’s talked to friends who are still in Wuhan, and they say people are just trying to stay civilized while they endure the quarantine. At first, Evans says, the scene in Wuhan was chaotic. But now, most people stay inside their homes, hoping their stockpiles of food and supplies will get them through the worst of it.
In comparison, a few days holed up in a Southern California hotel seems like a small price to pay for health and safety.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the type of flight that ferried Evans back to the US. He and his fellow passengers flew on a charter flight into March Air Reserve Base. It also stated on-site case workers are from the CDC. They are from the Administration for Children and Families.