Around 160 U.S. residents, some still donning face masks, were dropped off at San Diego International Airport Tuesday, finally free from a two-week federal quarantine at a San Diego military base.
Evacuee Cary Munger told NBC 7 he couldn’t wait to get back to the Midwest to enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures.
"I just wanna go home and eat some home-cooked food. That's what I really want to do," Munger said.
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The Americans were placed in a 14-day quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar after being evacuated from China, where a new coronavirus known as COVID-19 has been quickly spreading.
With the quarantine over, evacuees spent the day Tuesday traveling home.
Lance Peterson couldn’t help but smile as he talked about the final leg of his trip home – a flight from San Diego to Nebraska.
"I’m very relieved. It's been a long, long, process," he said.
Some, still worried about the stigma associated with being quarantined, opted to only share their first names as they recounted what it was like living under quarantine – void of human contact and stripped of some everyday freedoms.
"They were really critical about us staying six feet away from each other, and wearing the masks," a man named Phil said. "Not touching, no physical touching. Very, very, cautious."
Many had traveled to China with small children to visit relatives.
Between the weeks in federal quarantine and the idle time spent waiting for a way out of China amid the viral outbreak, a man named John said his young daughters had been indoors for nearly three months in total.
"It gets a little restless," he said.
Getting out of China was the most stressful part of the ordeal for Phil.
"I didn’t know what was going on, you know. There’s no internet so when you’re there you have no outside contact with the world other than WeChat," referring to an online messaging app.
Yanjun Wei was stuck in China with her children and was forced to spend weeks apart from her husband Ken Burnett. Wei was first held in quarantine in Northern California before being flown back home to San Diego Tuesday. She described the distress of trying to get home.
"When we were stuck in Wuhan we felt like we were being left behind by the State Department, and then after we landed this new group of people was so nice, so welcoming. It just felt like home," Wei said.
Despite the weeks of constant stress, many were complimentary of the American government’s role in removing them from danger and its effort to keep them healthy.
"I am so glad to be an American citizen," one woman said.
"It was difficult getting out of the country, but everybody here is good to go. So the main thing is everybody doesn’t have to worry about us, we’re not gonna spread anything," another man said.
The terms "grateful" and "thankful" were echoed by many who stepped off the bus at the airport Tuesday.
A Chicago-bound woman went as far as to describe the 14-day experience was like a "vacation," and likened the quarantine facility to a "nice hotel."
"All we needed to do was take temperature twice a day so it was kind of a vacation, very relaxing. Really good," she said.
Confirmed Coronavirus Cases
Source: NBC News, staff reports
Local health officials stressed the quarantined population was never a risk to the general public.
Though the release of the evacuees signifies an end to the weeks-long ordeal, the coronavirus outbreak that began in China is far from a thing of the past for many across the world. By Wednesday the virus had infected more than 75,000 people globally. Mainland China, where the virus originated, has reported 2,004 deaths among 74,185 cases.