As the novel coronavirus at the center of the ongoing outbreak in China continues to spread, officials have decided to expand heightened health screenings among travelers from China to 20 Unites States airports.
After the CDC increased its travel warning to the highest level on Monday, recommending that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, HHS Secretary Alex Azar hosted a press conference to discuss what is being done to “prepare and respond to the threat.”
“The playbook for responding to an infectious disease outbreak is simple and tiered — identify, isolate, diagnose and treat. Track contacts, do the same with them, and then do the same with contacts of contacts,” Azar said. “That is how [we] are handling this outbreak in the U.S.”
According to Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, under expanded screening at 20 U.S. airports — an increase from five airports initially targeted for screening — CDC staff will be added to already existing quarantine stations. She explained that not only will this allow health officials to detect symptomatic, infected travelers, it also will educate potentially asymptomatic infected travelers on what to do should symptoms begin.
To date, there have been five confirmed cases in the U.S., none of whom were identified through airport screening. The CDC said Monday that 110 patients were under investigation in 26 U.S. states.
“Right now, we think the risk is low, but risk is dependent on exposure,” Messonnier said. “While the vast majority of American will not have exposure — some will.”
She said exposed persons “need to be vigilant, and the people around them need to be vigilant.”
According to health officials in China, there have been 4,515 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, including 106 deaths, with nearly 45,000 additional people under medical observation. Other countries, including Germany, Japan and Vietnam, have reported evidence of limited human-to-human transmission. No such transmission has been seen in the U.S., according to officials.
“We are constantly preparing for the possibility that the situation could worsen,” Azar said. “Americans should not worry about their own safety. Part of the risk we face is we don’t know everything we need to know about this virus . ...That does not prevent us from preparing and responding.”– by Caitlyn Stulpin
Disclosures: Azar and Messonnier report no relevant financial disclosures.