13 Americans who have been on a cruise ship docked off the coast of Japan for two weeks have arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, for further monitoring and treatment if needed. Some of these citizens have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease which was first discovered in late 2019 and is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China. Those who have tested positive for this novel coronavirus, are only showing mild symptoms of the disease.
The recently opened National Quarantine Unit, on the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine campus, was designed for this very purpose – to safely monitor Americans after exposure to an infectious disease. The unit, which has a 20-bed capacity, is strategically located in close proximity to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, should a higher level of care be needed. After the passengers arrived, it was determined one person needed to be taken to the Biocontainment Unit for additional care. Our Nebraska Biocontainment Unit team cared for three patients with Ebola in late 2014.
“We were there for Ebola, we were there for the rescued Americans now being monitored at Camp Ashland and we’re going to be there for these American citizens as well,” said Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha. “Because we are one of the world leaders in this arena, we were asked by our federal partners, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to rise to the challenge when our nation once more critically needs our expertise. Clearly, this is again, one of those times.”
The Americans coming to Omaha from the cruise ship will be closely monitored for and then will be tested for the coronavirus before leaving the Quarantine Unit. Like the Americans staying at Camp Ashland, the Americans from the cruise ship will arrive at a remote and isolated aircraft parking area at Eppley Airfield and will not be entering the terminal. Arrival of the flight will have no impact on Omaha passengers. They will board a bus and be driven straight to the National Quarantine Unit. Flight operations at Eppley Airfield will remain normal and unaffected.
“We understand that this news might make some people living in the Omaha area uneasy,” said James Linder, MD, CEO of Nebraska Medicine. “I want to assure everyone that our Nebraska Medicine/UNMC colleagues are among the best in the world at handling situations like these. In many instances, they’ve written the book on the most effective methods of quarantine and treatment. The Nebraska method is the tested standard.”
Currently, there have been 15 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and zero deaths. While this disease has been more infectious than the SARS outbreak in 2003, it has been far less lethal. Our experts estimate a fatality rate between one and two percent for COVID- 19, with the majority of the fatalities being in people with other medical conditions.
The list of initiatives involving biopreparedness on the med center campus is extensive. The Global Center for Health Security features the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit which serves as the Region VII Special Pathogen Treatment Center. The Global Center also includes the National Ebola Training and Education Center (NETEC), National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) training and the recently opened National Quarantine Unit, just to name a few. In addition to providing quarantine for Americans exposed to infectious diseases, the Training, Simulation and Quarantine Center is also designed to train federal personnel to treat highly infectious diseases. It was made possible via a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.