U.S. Expands Airport Screening For Coronavirus, Officials Add Risk Of Extensive Infections Is Low


U.S. Expands Airport Screening For Coronavirus, Officials Add Risk Of Extensive Infections Is Low

4 years ago

~4.2 mins read


WASHINGTON—The U.S. has expanded screenings of passengers for the coronavirus to 20 airports, even as health officials sought to assure the public that the virus doesn’t yet pose a threat to most Americans.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he wouldn’t hesitate to declare a national health emergency if needed, but underscored that there are just five confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. so far.

“This is potentially a very serious health threat, but at this point Americans should not worry for their safety,” Mr. Azar said at a news conference with officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies.

In addition to screening air travelers coming to the U.S., federal health officials said they are accelerating efforts to find vaccines and other therapies to arrest the spread of the virus that originated in China, where it has been blamed in more than 100 deaths.

The State Department on Tuesday advised Americans to reconsider any travel to China and specifically to avoid Hubei Province where the virus was first identified.

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“Americans should not travel there,” Mr. Azar said.

Meanwhile, airlines around the global have begun curtailing service to China in the wake of the outbreak.

The U.S. last week began screening at international airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Atlanta—and added 15 more airports this week, officials said.

Travelers from areas affected by the virus will be screened at airports in these locations.

Dallas/Fort Worth
El Paso
Los Angeles
Minneapolis-St. Paul
New York
San Diego
San Francisco
San Juan, Puerto Rico
For the five known cases in the U.S., officials said they are taking the standard procedure of isolating patients and identifying others they came in contact with in hopes of stopping further infections.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, as of now, “there is no proven therapy for coronavirus infection.” He said officials are working to develop a vaccine and determining if certain existing antiviral drugs can be effective.

“We are proceeding as if we will have to supply a vaccine,” said Dr.


Fauci. He said his institute hopes to begin an early-phase clinical trial “within the next few months.”

Mr. Azar said his department is also studying the nation’s stockpile of emergency medicines to assess the nation’s readiness if such an epidemic were to spread here.

Mr. Azar said the Chinese government interaction with the U.S. on the illnesses is significantly improved from the time years ago of the severe acute respiratory, or SARS, epidemic.

Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said coronavirus is spreading rapidly in China, with at least 4,500 known cases—and nearly 1,700 cases in the last 24 hours.

“We really don’t know a lot about this new coronavirus,” Dr. Redfield said.

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So far, the coronavirus appears to be less deadly than SARS, which erupted in China in 2002 and spread globally. SARS killed about 10% of the people it infected, while about 3% of the people confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus have died.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that the basic steps of identifying patients and their contacts appears to be holding the disease in check in the U.S. so far.

“Right now, we think the risk of the virus in the U.S. is low,” said Dr. Messonnier.

Because the virus is new, some basic features aren’t yet understood—including how long the incubation period and infectivity periods are and whether a person can carry the virus, and infect others, without showing the symptoms.

Four strains of the coronaviruses can cause common colds, but others are more serious and even deadly, leading to SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.

Separately on Tuesday, United Airlines Holdings Inc. became the first U.S. carrier to cancel flights due to the coronavirus—suspending 24 round trip-flights between the U.S. and China starting Feb.


1 and citing a significant decline in demand since the virus outbreak.

Air France-KLM said it canceled flights to Wuhan—the Hubei province city where the virus is believed to have originated in a large animal and seafood market, probably stemming from bats. The airline also is offering rebooking and cancellation at no extra charge to and from China. British Airways and Deutsche Lufthansa AG. are offering similar free rebooking policies.

The U.S. State Department evacuated staff from its consulate in Wuhan, as well as a limited number of U.S. citizens, via a charter flight bound for Ontario, Calif. on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, business travel to China is grinding to a halt, travel managers said. “Nearly every one of our business travel customers has put restrictions in place, many stopping travel” to China, said Chip Juedes, chief executive of Fox World Travel in Oshkosh, Wis. “The question is going to be, what will it take to get the all clear to start travel back up?”.

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