American family stranded in Wuhan amid coronavirus outbreak because of passport issue

An American family is stranded in Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak — after they were unable to locate the daughter’s passport in time to make the U.S. government-chartered plane back to the states.

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department had chartered a plane to evacuate Americans from Wuhan. The plane, which departed Wednesday morning local time from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport with 195 U.S. passengers (most of whom are U.S. consulate staff members, according to WLEX News), has already landed at a military base in Riverside County, Calif., according to CNN and CBS News.

Americans Priscilla Dickey and her daughter Hermione are stranded in Wuhan, China, after a passport issue prevented them from evacuating. (Photo: Priscilla Dickey)

In a Wednesday press briefing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the passengers have been through multiple health screenings and will continue to be monitored at the military base for three days. But Priscilla Dickey and her daughter Hermione will not be among them. According to ABC10 News, in the scramble to evacuate, the family could not find Hermione’s passport and were not permitted on the flight as a result. 

Hermione’s father and Priscilla’s ex-husband, James Dickey, who lives in Wuhan, told news outlets that family members faxed papers confirming the young girl’s identity and James finally located his daughter’s actual passport, but it was too little too late. The plane took off without them, and now the family is stranded in Wuhan, where the coronavirus has infected an estimated 6,000 people — surpassing the deadly SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 — and killed more than 130 individuals in China, according to Time.

There have been five cases reported in the U.S. so far, according to the Wednesday briefing by the CDC, with the first case in the nation involving a man in his 30s who was traveling from Wuhan, China, to his home in Washington. Health officials in Arkansas confirmed Wednesday that they are investigating a possible case.

“The number of cases is exploding,” Stanley Deresinski, MD, an infectious disease specialist with Stanford Health Care, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It looks like in terms of the rapidity of increase it’s greater than what was seen with SARS.”

Deresinski explains that “the estimated current reproductive rate is about 2.5,” meaning that every person who is infected with the Wuhan coronavirus “is expected to infect [another] 2.5 individuals.”

However, Deresinski says that the coronavirus doesn't appear to be “as lethal as SARS,” which killed 774 people, according to the CDC. “It looks like most of the fatalities are in the elderly and in individuals with co-morbidities — that is, existing illnesses,” making them more vulnerable to the virus.

For Priscilla Dickey and her daughter Hermione, it’s understandably scary to be stranded in Wuhan at the moment. “Certainly, if you’re among the population in Wuhan, I’d imagine there would be a significant risk,” says Deresinski.

He adds, “There’s no treatment. There's no vaccine. So the only way you can reduce that reproductive ratio is to isolate people.”

Deresinski says a major way the family can protect themselves is through “social distancing ... staying away from other people.” Beyond that, he recommends following good hygiene practices, such as washing hands with soap and water often and wearing a face mask if you’re going to come into contact with other people (though Deresinski notes that finding an N95 respirator is likely difficult to get a hold of right now).

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