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Evacuee group cleared to leave coronavirus quarantine in Southern California

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RIVERSIDE — A group of 195 evacuees was cleared Tuesday to end a two-week quarantine at a Southern California military base after flying out of China during a deadly viral outbreak, officials said.

After everyone at March Air Reserve Base passed their final health screenings, they threw their face masks into the air and hugged, said Dr. Nancy Knight of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These individuals have completed their quarantine. They pose no health risk to themselves, to their families, to their places of work, to schools or their communities,” she told reporters. “There should be no concern about novel coronavirus from these 195 individuals. They have been watched more closely than anyone else in the United States.”

The group, which includes U.S. consular officials and children, arrived Jan. 29 on a U.S.-chartered flight that whisked them out of the heart of the viral outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The locked-down city of 11 million is the epicenter of the virus that has claimed more than 1,000 lives worldwide.

It was the first group of evacuees to arrive in the United States and none of them tested positive for the illness. Most of the group cleared Tuesday was planning to leave immediately, though some will remain one more day because of travel arrangements. They are headed to see family across the United States and health officials urged the public to welcome them. Public health officials denounced incidents of discrimination reported in the Riverside, California, area against military personnel who work at the base.

Knight said the daughter of a woman who works at the base was called names at school. Another base employee was denied housing because she worked there.

“They don't need additional testing. They don't need to be shunned,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, public health officer for Riverside County, told reporters. “Our work here is done and these people are going home and I expect every single one of us to let them.”

The FBI and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department are investigating the online posting of a fake document last month asserting the novel coronavirus was detected in the city of Carson, California. The realistic-looking document had the official logos of Los Angeles County Public Health, the CDC and the World Health Organization, and has been strongly denounced by local officials.

In the United States, there have been only 13 confirmed cases.

Hundreds of evacuees in the past two weeks were flown to military bases in California, Texas and Nebraska and remain under quarantine.

One person is in isolation at a hospital near San Diego after testing positive. That person and three other evacuees had been in hospital isolation after showing symptoms of the virus but on Sunday, federal health officials said they had tested negative and they were sent back to the base, where they joined more than 200 people.

On Monday, however, the CDC informed county health officials that further testing revealed that one of the four patients tested positive and was sent back to the hospital.

Among those leaving the base Tuesday in Riverside County was Consul General Jamie Fouss. He described how they had to check passengers against the manifest on the chartered plane in China, check bags and conduct health screenings before taking off for Alaska and later California.

The quarantine, he said, wasn't as challenging as he thought it could be, adding the group stayed busy with evacuees running Zumba and art classes and activities for the children.

“Everybody felt like the quarantine was their civic duty to do what they needed to do to keep themselves and their communities safe,” he told reporters. “Today as we took off our masks and were given the clean bill of health, we all realized we had gone through this experience together, and we made good friends.”

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Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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