Air Force evacuates coronavirus patients from Afghanistan in first use of isolation system
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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Air Force has used an infectious diseases containment unit developed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak to evacuate three U.S. government contractors who tested positive for the coronavirus from Afghanistan to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The patients were transported nearly 4,000 miles inside the Transport Isolation System, which is designed to minimize risks to air crew, medical caregivers and the aircraft while allowing patients to be treated in-flight, Air Mobility Command said in a statement.
The evacuation, on board a C-17 out of Joint Base Charleston, S.C., marked the first time patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus have been transported on a U.S. Air Force aircraft, and was the first operational use of the isolation unit since it was developed, the statement said.
The system is made up of an antechamber module for medical staff and two isolation modules set on retrofitted aircraft pallets. The modules’ air filtration systems trap and hold airborne and nonairborne pathogens.
Patient care occurs in the isolation modules, while the antechamber provides medical workers with a space to decontaminate and remove their protective equipment.
The C-17 had two isolation systems aboard, the statement said.
On arrival at Ramstein, the patients were sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for further treatment, officials said.
The evacuation also marked the first time that a patient movement plan, which provides crew and support personnel a detailed process for transporting patients aboard pressurized military aircraft, was activated.
The plan for patients with the disease caused by the coronavirus had been completed and released hours earlier, the statement said.
“Our unique capabilities paired with our strategic locations across the globe enable us to rapidly help those in need,” Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa said in a statement. “Along with our allies and partners we stand united against a shared threat and stand ready to help when called.”
U.S. Transportation Command keeps pre-positioned isolation units at Ramstein, Air Force officials said.