COVID-19 Resource Center
COVID-19 Resource Center
January 17, 2020
2 min read

US to test travelers for Chinese coronavirus at 3 airports

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The CDC and Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection will begin carrying out heightened health screenings among travelers who arrive in the United States on direct and connecting flights from Wuhan, China following reports of new coronavirus cases in Thailand and Japan.

The CDC announced on Friday, Jan. 17 that travelers from Wuhan to the United States will undergo entry screening for symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus currently infecting dozens in Wuhan starting immediately. These efforts will be concentrated in the three airports that receive the most travelers from Wuhan: SFO in San Francisco, JFK in New York and LAX in Los Angeles. The CDC will send approximately 100 additional staff members to these airports to assist current staff members at CDC quarantine stations in these airports.

“This is a serious situation,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said during a CDC telebriefing on Friday. “We have faced this challenge before with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) — both were complex and required a comprehensive health response. Because of that experience, we know it is important to be proactive and prepared.”

Messonnier added: “While the discovery of a new virus can be exciting, we are still learning about it. This means that our recommendations will continue to evolve as we learn more about the virus.”

The briefing and CDC announcement came after reports from health officials in Thailand and Japan about new cases of the novel coronavirus that has left two dead and dozens sick in China.

On Thursday, Jan. 16, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported their first confirmed case of the novel virus in a person who had traveled to Wuhan, China — the center of the ongoing outbreak.

In Thailand, the first reported case was in a traveler from Wuhan who was identified and hospitalized on Jan. 8. The second case was detected in a 74-year-old Chinese woman who is currently under medical supervision in Thailand.

According to CDC officials, most patients in the outbreak have been linked to a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan that has since been closed for cleaning and disinfecting. There have been 45 cases of the virus reported to date; the most recent was reported in the early afternoon on Jan. 17, according to Messonnier, with patient conditions ranging from seriously ill to fully recovered and discharged. So far, there have been two deaths, both in older adults — one of whom had serious underlying health issues.

Messonnier says there is “some limited information about person-to-person transmission,” but that the general risk to the public is low.

“It is early in the outbreak and the virus is novel. While we have experience with SARS and MERS, humility is important,” Martin Cetron, MD, Director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said in the telebriefing. “As we learn more about this virus, CDC will adjust guidelines accordingly.” – by Caitlyn Stulpin

Disclosures: Cetron and Messonnier report no relevant financial disclosures.


CDC. Public health screening to begin at 3 U.S. airports for 2019 novel coronavirus (“2019 nCoV”). Accessed January 17, 2019.

WHO. Novel coronavirus — Japan (ex-China). Accessed January 17, 2020.