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UNMC partners with federal government to monitor Americans returning from China

Staff Writer
Syracuse Journal-Democrat

The United States government is again calling upon Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center to help American citizens during a time of need. A plane carrying rescued Americans and their families now working in China is scheduled to arrive in Omaha on Friday, Feb. 7. This effort is part of a larger one designed to bring hundreds of Americans home from China because of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The plane filled with U.S. government employees and their family members will make a stop at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in the San Diego area before landing at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield. Passengers will be screened by U.S. government health officials before takeoff in China, upon landing in California and will again be screened upon arrival in Nebraska.

Nebraska Medicine and UNMC are working in tandem with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Douglas County Health Department, Sarpy-Cass County Health Department, Lincoln-Lancaster Health Department, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Three Rivers Health Department and the Nebraska National Guard on the effort to bring the rescued Americans home in this critical time of need.

These individuals will be monitored for 14 days at Camp Ashland, an Army National Guard training facility outside of Ashland, Neb., and all will be tested and retested for this novel coronavirus infection. Should any of them develop symptoms or have a laboratory-confirmed test during the monitoring period, they will be cared for in the world-class facilities on the campus of the Nebraska Medical Center. The medical center is home to the 20-bed National Quarantine Center and the 10-bed Nebraska Biocontainment Unit (NBU). NBU staff cared for patients with Ebola in 2014 during the epidemic outbreak in western Africa.

"There is no better place for these American citizens to be," said Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha. "Our team of health care professionals served in our nation’s time of need in 2014 and since then has led the world in developing the latest global health security protocols. Our team has done this before and regularly educates others on the best practices in situations such as these. In short, they know as much about this as just about anyone else in the world."

"We’re doing this because we are in a position to rescue American citizens at a time when they and their families need us," said James Linder, MD, CEO of Nebraska Medicine. "We have exceptional people to do the job, to do it safely and to do it effectively. Those we’ll be monitoring are Americans who wanted to evacuate the outbreak area and return to the safety of their home country. Because of our expertise, it’s our duty to answer the call and help in any way we can."

The list of initiatives involving biopreparedness on the med center campus is extensive. The Global Center for Health Security features the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, National Ebola Training and Education Center (NETEC), National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) training and the recently opened Training, Simulation and Quarantine Center (TSQC), just to name a few. The TSQC is a facility designed to train federal personnel to treat highly infectious diseases and to create a place to monitor people who may have had a high-risk exposure. The TSQC, made possible via a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is not being used for monitoring in this case because of the large number of people involved.

The flight will be handled at a remote and isolated aircraft parking area at Eppley Airfield and will NOT occur at the Eppley Airfield terminal. The arrival of the flight will have no impact on Omaha passengers, and flight operations at Eppley Airfield will remain normal and unaffected.

Once the rescued Americans finish their 14-day monitoring period and public health experts are convinced they are not exhibiting symptoms or laboratory signs of the coronavirus, they will be sent home.