RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Jarred Evans, a professional football player in China, is used to wearing safety gear: a helmet and shoulder pads. But in the wake of a deadly viral outbreak, he’s switched to a mask and medical gloves.
“When you’re dealing with life and death, it’s a whole different ball game,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Evans, 27, was one of 195 Americans evacuated from the city of Wuhan and flown to March Air Reserve Base in Southern California until authorities confirm they don’t have the virus that has sickened thousands and killed more than 200 people.
Most cases are in China, but the outbreak has spread to more than a dozen countries, and the World Health Organization declared a global emergency Thursday.
The U.S. has advised against all travel to China and on Thursday confirmed the country’s first case of person-to-person spread of the virus, a man who is married to a Chicago woman in her 60s who got sick after she returned from a trip to Wuhan.
Evans and the other evacuees at the sprawling base east of Los Angeles, including children ranging from around a year old to about 13, have blood tests and were given nose, throat and mouth swabs, he said. Some test results won’t be back for a week, he added.
While Evans said the surroundings are fairly comfortable, the evacuated Americans are being cautious about mingling.
“I’m still wearing my mask and I’m still wearing my gloves,” he said. “We’re still not knowing who has it. I’m still taking major precautions. You don’t know whether you’re in the clear.”
The children being monitored played with base-provided scooters, bikes, footballs and soccer balls but at dinnertime, he said, “everyone’s getting their food and going right back to their rooms.”
The evacuated Americans arrived Wednesday morning after their flight from Wuhan, with a stop in Anchorage for refueling. Officials said all would undergo three days of monitoring and testing and that authorities would hold “discussions” if any expressed a desire to leave earlier.
One person tried to leave the base Wednesday night under circumstances that were not explained and Riverside County officials ordered the person quarantined for two weeks unless medically cleared , said Jose Arballo Jr., a spokesman for the county’s public health agency.
The order was issued “as a result of the unknown risk to the public” because the person had not undergone a complete health evaluation, the agency said.
It can take up to 14 days for someone who is infected to develop symptoms, health officials believe. None of the Americans housed at base have shown symptoms of the virus since their arrival, Arballo said.
Evans said he would remain at the base until testing shows he is free of the virus.
He is a professional quarterback who moved to Wuhan several years ago to play in a Chinese football league.
Before the outbreak took hold, he said the city of 11 million people felt joyful, with residents getting ready for the Lunar New Year.
But in a matter of days, “it turned into chaos” as news broke of the rapidly expanding outbreak. Suddenly, Evans said, people swarmed pharmacies and stores to get masks and disinfectant spray. He speaks no Chinese, so friends translated news about the virus for him.
“I stocked up on rice, noodles, water, anything that could help me survive for a week or two,” Evans said.
The Chinese government shut down the city — banning buses, trains, taxis, and personal cars. The military patrolled some streets.
“That’s when people, honestly, stayed locked in their homes,” Evans said.
He compared the deserted city to an Old West ghost town.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” he said. “Imagine New York City being shut down. I was completely scared at first, because I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. I don’t speak the language, and my family is so far away.”
Evans holed up in his home for a week and a half until he received the news that the U.S. Embassy was evacuating its diplomats and their families and other U.S. citizens.
He was notified that a chartered flight was carrying some of the 1,000 or so Americans in Wuhan back to the United States. The flight was coming in the next day.
Evans said he was told, “If you can make it there, you’re on the flight.”
“It was a race against time,” he said.
Evans found an acquaintance who drove him to the airport. The embassy notified Chinese authorities of the license plate number so he could pass through the guarded streets.
Evans said he was No. 171 out of 195 people permitted on board.
On the plane were two men in full hazardous material suits, who warned them about the seriousness of the outbreak. Nobody appeared sick but all of the passengers decided to wear masks throughout the flight, Evans said.
The plane flew to Anchorage, where the passengers had health screenings, and the passengers cheered and applauded when the jet landed at the California base.
After he receives news that he does not have the virus, Evans plans to visit relatives and then head to Switzerland, where is signed to play with the Bern Grizzlies this year. He would like to return to Wuhan after the virus is controlled.
“The community is amazing, the people in Wuhan are amazing. China is a beautiful place,” he said.
But the threat of the deadly disease has left its mark.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” Evans said. “The weirdest thing is the threat of man. You can actually get this virus by shaking hands.”
He added: “I’m a very hands-on person. And for me to be quiet and not to interact with others has been one of the hurtful things that I have to do. But to protect myself, I have to do it.”