Northam: More than 14,000 have arrived from Afghanistan; ‘we can all be proud’

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday said that, so far, about 14,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan have arrived in the commonwealth through Dulles International Airport, calling it “one of the largest airlifts in history” and saying “we can all be proud” of Virginia’s “critical role.”

On a conference call, the governor said that five more flights of evacuees are scheduled to land at Dulles on Friday, though he emphasized that these flights don’t come straight from Afghanistan; rather, from Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Germany, Spain and Bulgaria. That means many thousands more are still on their way to the U.S.

The Pentagon has said it has evacuated more than 110,000 people.

He added that all arrivals have to get tested for COVID-19, or show proof of a negative test that’s less than 72 hours old. Of the 14,000 people who have arrived so far, only 20 have tested positive, and are being quarantined, mostly in Loudoun County. “That’s much better than our statewide numbers,” Northam said.

Northam also said Dulles will no longer be the sole entry point for Afghan evacuees — the Philadelphia airport will now take them as well.

The governor gave more details about the process people coming from Afghanistan go through.

American citizens returning from Afghanistan go through the same immigration and customs process any U.S. citizen goes through when returning to the country. Then, assuming they take a negative COVID-19 test or prove a recent one, “most go on their way.”

Northam said Virginia activated their Emergency Repatriation Plan on Aug. 15, the day Kabul fell, and those who need assistance – money, lodging, flight arrangements — are getting it at the Marriott Hotel at Dulles. About 275 people have used these services, Northam said.

Non-citizens go to the Dulles Expo Center, where they undergo the immigration process, and then are taken to military installations for more processing.

Both the Expo Center and the Marriott have mass-vaccination sites. Officials, though, said that so far they have been lightly used.

“These people are just coming out of a war zone. They’re landing in a new country. And so I think a lot of it is going to be educational,” Northam said. “I don’t think this is something you just automatically want to say, ‘You need to get a shot.’ So we’re trying to at least handle some of these individuals with respect and, you know, kid gloves, rather than saying, ‘Do this, do that.’”

So far, evacuated people have been taken to Fort Lee. Northam said the base had a capacity of 1,750 people, but that when his wife, Pam, visited a few days ago, there was “just a handful” of people. “That’s really good news,” Northam said, “because it means that people are being processed and moved to their new homes and communities around the country.” He said the average stay at Fort Lee is three to five days.

The Department of Defense recently added Quantico and Fort Pickett to the list of places that can take people evacuated from Afghanistan, Northam said. Quantico’s capacity is 1,000 people, and can be scaled up to 5,000; the first people are expected to arrive Sunday. Fort Pickett can hold 3,800 people and can scale up to “5,000 and even 10,000, if needed,” he added. The first arrivals are expected Saturday.

Northam said residents looking to help out Afghan arrivals can call 211 to offer their help, or contact the Commonwealth Catholic Charities or the Lutheran Family Services, both of which the state has been working with.

“I think overall things are going well,” Northam said. “Our mission is to bring Americans home safely and certainly help our Afghan allies build a new life here.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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