WOODBURY — The call came on a Friday night. Two planes carrying American evacuees from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China would land at California's Travis Air Force Base, the passengers to be quarantined and monitored for signs of illness.
By the following Sunday, registered nurse Jean Tersteeg left her Woodbury home, joining scores of physicians, paramedics and other professionals deployed to support the evacuees as part of the federal government’s National Disaster Medical System.
Tersteeg said she put her life on hold with the confidence that her family members, friends and coworkers would take care of things back home.
“To me they’re just as important as those of us who actually go and do this work,” Tersteeg said of her local support system, adding there are too many people to recognize them all by name.
An example of the generosity she received was waiting for her when she returned home Sunday, Feb. 16, from the two-week deployment. Tersteeg said a physician she works with delivered a bag of prepared meals.
“She knew I’d been gone for two weeks and had no food,” Tersteeg said. “That’s the type of thing the support system at home does.”
Teamwork underscored the response to evacuees — 231 of them taken to Travis Air Force Base and more than 800 in total — flown out of Wuhan, China, by the U.S. government.
Tersteeg is a member of the NDMS Disaster Medical Assistance Team, a network of responders made available through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, or ASPR. The health department sent 160 personnel to the base as part of a combined deployment of 628 personnel to five military bases designated to receive evacuees from China, according to a news release.
Mary Zweber, a pharmacist from Stillwater, Minn., was also in a Disaster Medical Assistance Team deployed to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, the health department said.
“The response to this rapidly evolving outbreak required a tremendous amount of interagency support, collaboration and coordination,” Jonathan Greene, ASPR’s Emergency Management and Medical Operations director, said in the news release. “Within days, HHS and ASPR worked across the U.S. government to identify housing, appropriate quarantine requirements and wrap-around services for more than 800 evacuees that have returned to the United States.”
Tersteeg’s tasks included daily monitoring of the evacuees housed inside a hanger at the base, located northeast of San Francisco. She said care workers frequently took temperatures to detect fever, as well as watched for coughing and shortness of breath. After two weeks none of the evacuees became ill.
Despite the unfavorable situation, spirits remained high throughout the quarantine period, Tersteeg said.
“They were wonderful,” she said of the evacuees. “I think they were just so happy to be here, to be on American soil.”
Wuhan is believed to be the origin of the virus, named COVID-19, responsible for more than 1,800 deaths, mostly in China, according to a Feb. 18 situation report by the World Health Organization.
There were 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of Feb. 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including one in Wisconsin. Three suspected cases in Minnesota tested negative for the virus.
More information about COVID-19 and the government’s response can be found on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV.