After a San Diego military base became a quarantine zone for U.S. citizens fleeing the coronavirus, many were left wondering: what is it like for the passengers, who likely don't have the virus, stuck in a long and tiresome process?
On Wednesday, Jacob Wilson got off an unmarked plane at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and began his 14-day quarantine at the military base.
He was on the first flight to arrive in San Diego since the start of the quarantine. A second plane arrived Friday, with an estimated 67 passengers, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Thomas Skinner.
“There’s a lot of staff. I mean, I can just look outside of the window, and they have privacy gates that, kind of, gate us in the entire quarters here,” he told NBC 7.
Wilson, originally from Louisiana, has lived in Wuhan, China, for more than a decade.
He runs a social media site that tells English-speaking tourists what to do in the Central China city, like what restaurants to try or what concerts to see. Wilson said he doesn’t know how the coronavirus outbreak will affect his business in the long-term.
But in the short-term, Wilson is asking much simpler questions, like, “When can I wash my clothes?”
“We haven’t been provided any answer about detergent or when that’s going to actually happen,” he said.
Wilson told NBC 7 that many of the 167 passengers quarantined at MCAS Miramar have been wearing the same clothes. Part of the reason, he said, was because a lot of the luggage did not arrive with the first plane at MCAS Miramar.
“It’s really strange being on this flight and seeing, like, what was going on, but it was also quite confusing because it seemed like there was a lack of, like, leadership,” Wilson said.
Wilson and another passenger, Yu Lin, both recorded what it was like inside the quarantined plane: Crews in hazmat suits, a hollowed-out cabin, and a cooler of water bottles in the back.
"They had hazmat suit on for a while, but it's not scary," Lin said.
Lin tweeted out a selfie with one of the staff members in a hazmat suit. Lin, himself, was wearing a large face mask.
He captioned the post, “Back in USA, away from #WuhanCoronovirus. Really grateful to State Department staff for working tirelessly to evacuate us. They played many roles: officials, flight attendants, medical staffs.” He later said their efforts were “nothing short of a miracle.”
The jet was a cargo plane converted into a passenger plane, Lin said. It had mismatching seats and leftover materials from when it carried cargo.
Once in San Diego, Lin tweeted again, saying a member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Teams was from Minnesota – definitely a silver lining for Lin, a die-hard Vikings fan.
"It's actually pretty nice, you know, the CDC and all the staff are very accommodating," Lin told NBC News. "There’s a courtyard, so everybody has their own room and can be in the courtyard."
Lin joked he wanted to do more exercise in the "big courtyard" during his two-week quarantine.
He also tweeted a video "room tour" of his living space at MCAS Miramar. In the video, there is a living room with multiple couches and a large TV; a kitchen with a mini fridge, microwave, and sink; a bedroom with a desk and a dress; and a personal bathroom.
Now that the passengers are back in the U.S., there is some relief, but the journey has taken an emotional toll.
Wilson told NBC 7 it took 12 hours to board the plane in Wuhan, and some passengers, who had a confirmed spot, had to wait for the next flight because they weren’t on the manifest.
“They had to get them and their families back through this virus-ridden city, back to their homes, to wait for days until they could receive another confirmation to be on the next flight,” Wilson said.
Wilson said it wasn’t easy to leave his family and friends behind in China – many of whom have lost loved ones because of the coronavirus.
“In many cases, it’s not a choice for people, it’s a life or death situation, and they would have absolutely would have stayed there if there was any other choice.”
Lin said his wife, who is in Minnesota, has been worried sick waiting for him to come back home -- so much so, in an ironic twist, she actually got a cold.
"It’s not a perfect process, but I really think (the U.S. State Department) did a good job," Lin said.
Frank Wucinski and his 3-year-old daughter Annabel Wucinski were also on the flight with Wilson and Lin. But after the plane landed, they were sent to an isolated hospital room -- equipped to contain even the deadly Ebola virus -- at Rady Children’s Hospital for further evaluation.
Neither of the father-daughter pair coughed during our interview, and Frank Wucinski said they didn't seem to have fevers or any other symptoms of coronavirus, but may have been flagged because Frank Wucinski's father-in-law in China was diagnosed with the coronavirus.
“We haven't been outside for three weeks. We’re looking forward to seeing blue skies and green grass,” Frank Wucinski said. “Definitely itching.”
But, all things considered, Frank Wucinski said he has Netflix and work to keep him occupied.
Lin, also using humor during a very tiring process, tweeted a photo of the Consolidated Bachelor Quarters sign at MCAS Miramar, saying, “You betcha! We are all bachelors for the next weeks.”
He also revealed what the food was like at the base, sharing a photo of dish containing eggs and potatoes.
With each day, Wilson, Lin, and the Wucinskis are another step closer to a normal life.
Skinner said all patients, from both planes, have their temperature taken twice a day, and anyone with symptoms have and will be transported to an isolated room at a nearby hospital.
Five patients, including the Wucinskis, from the first flight to San Diego were removed from quarantine and placed in isolation -- four on Wednesday and a fifth on Thursday -- at UC San Diego Medical Center and Rady Children’s Hospital for further coronavirus testing, the CDC confirmed.
The CDC has not yet released information on the 67 passengers aboard the second flight, including if anyone else had been placed in isolated rooms at San Diego hospitals.
Officials said their isolation was a precaution. The results could take days to process.
Health workers in San Diego are pushing for emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration for a coronavirus testing kit. If approved, hospitals will be able to test for the virus on site, making the results available much faster.
With two groups of U.S. citizens from China now in San Diego, Skinner also wanted to dispel misconceptions about how the disease spreads.
"You really have to have direct, close contact with somebody who is sick with the virus for an extended period of time to acquire this disease," he said.
Skinner said if you have not been to China recently and you have not made direct, continued contact with someone from that region who carries the virus, your chance of contracting the disease is "essentially zero."
The flights, Kalitta Air flights 373 and 375, were contracted by the U.S. government to bring home U.S. citizens stuck in China amid the coronavirus outbreak, MCAS Miramar Capt. Matt Gregory said.
The planes left Wuhan for Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, before being routed to San Diego.
“In support of Health and Human Services, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar will be temporarily housing American citizens in the process of returning from China,” MCAS Miramar said in a press release.
The Pentagon chose four U.S. military bases to accommodate the nearly 1,000 American passengers evacuating China. MCAS Miramar in San Diego and Travis Air Force Base were among them. The other two selected were the 168th Regiment Regional Training Institute in Fort Carson, Colorado, and Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas.