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Quarantined evacuees wrote a petition asking to be tested for coronavirus. Here's why the CDC said no

CNN logo CNN 2/14/2020 By Elizabeth Cohen, John Bonifield and Lucy Kafanov, CNN
a close up of text on a white background: Evacuees from Wuhan, China, wrote a petition requesting they be tested for the novel coronavirus. © Evacuee at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Evacuees from Wuhan, China, wrote a petition requesting they be tested for the novel coronavirus.

Ordered into quarantine, a group evacuated to California from Wuhan, China, is at odds with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has petitioned for five "critical" changes in their conditions.

The CDC has already said no to the first request -- the evacuees wanted to be tested for the novel coronavirus.

The evacuees arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego last week, fleeing the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Already, two of the evacuees have been diagnosed with the virus and sent into isolation at a nearby hospital.

Scared that more people might be diagnosed, the evacuees circulated a petition among themselves thanking the CDC for their support but also requesting the five changes.

According to one evacuee who asked not to be named, about a third of those quarantined at Miramar have signed the petition. NBC-San Diego was the first to report the existence of the petition.

"We believe testing everyone at the facility would help identify potential suspects as early as possible, so the appropriate treatment could be put in place," according to the petition, which is written in both Chinese and English.

While the CDC is monitoring the evacuees' health with twice-daily checks for symptoms such as fever and cough, the agency is not testing them for the virus.

According to a CDC official, the test for the coronavirus often results in a false negative if given too early, when the person is infected but not yet showing symptoms.

"Testing someone who is asymptomatic may not yield a true result if an infection has not yet been fully established. A false negative could provide a false sense of security," according to a statement Thursday by Dr. Christopher Braden, a CDC official who is with the evacuees at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

The CDC says Braden has explained the issue of false negatives to the evacuees. However, in the petition, the evacuees had a different impression of what the CDC was saying. 

"[We] understand CDC's current working assumption is the virus won't spread until symptoms develop," according to the petition.

In his statement to CNN, Braden said asymptomatic transmission can happen.

While a federal quarantine doesn't exactly resemble a four-star hotel, people are entitled to food, water, accommodations and medical treatment, and are free to communicate with family and friends, James Hodge, director at the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University, previously told CNN. But they can't leave their specified location until federal authorities say so.

In their petition, the evacuees had four other requests: Prevention of gatherings of large numbers of people in small, enclosed environments; delivery of personal protective gear to evacuees, including masks and sanitizing alcohol for room disinfection; provision of hand sanitizer at the front desk and playground; and disinfection two to three times a day of public areas, "including playground, laundry room, door knobs, etc."

"We believe these are critical measures towards mitigating the potential risk of spreading the virus at Miramar center, and are proactive steps to protect the health of this group and the safety of the American people," the petition states.

Slideshow by photo services

CDC officials said they're listening to the evacuees' concerns.

"CDC has been working with partner agencies to address the concerns noted by the evacuee. Several changes have been made to many of the procedures to address these concerns and we are doing what we can to make everyone as comfortable as possible," CDC spokesperson Benjamin Haynes said in an email. "They have been gracious and we thank them for their cooperation."

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