As a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus in the U.S., all flights from China headed to the U.S. will be directed through seven airports, including Daniel K. Inouye International airport in Honolulu, federal officials announced Friday.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar declared the virus, known as 2019-nCoV, a public health emergency in the United States at a White House Coronavirus Task Force press conference held Friday afternoon.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced public health actions to prevent the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus at a press conference Friday.
All U.S. citizens who have traveled to Hubei Province in China during the past two weeks will be subject to 14 days of mandatory quarantine, “to ensure they are provided proper medical care and screening,” according to Azar.
“As a result, foreign nationals, other than immediate family of permanent U.S. citizens, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the U.S.”
Those who have traveled elsewhere outside of Hubei Province will undergo “proactive entry health screening” at the seven airports and will be monitored for another 14 days of self-quarantine “to make sure they’ve not contracted the virus and make sure they do not pose a public threat,” he said.
The directive came from President Donald Trump, who also signed a presidential proclamation 212-F that temporarily bans foreign nationals who “pose a risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus” from entering the United States.
The actions will take effect Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. EST, or 12 p.m. in Honolulu.
“These prudent targeted and temporary actions will decrease the pressure on public health officials screening incoming travelers, expedite the processing of visitors and permanent residents returning from China, and ensure the focus on health and safety of the American people,” Azar said. “I want to stress the risk of infection for Americans remains low.”
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport has had a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine station for 15 years.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The Department of Homeland Security will provide medical support at the seven airports, which also include John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport.
Honolulu’s airport has had a quarantine station operated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 2005. Earlier this week, a CDC spokesman told Civil Beat that customs agents would distribute a health advisory flyer and if travelers had symptoms, agents would refer them to the quarantine station. The CDC did not immediately respond to an inquiry made Friday about what the federal announcement means for quarantine protocol at the Honolulu airport.
Earlier on Friday, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines announced they would suspend all of their flights between the United States and China.
There are no flights connecting Wuhan to Honolulu. Currently the only direct flight from China to Hawaii is a non-daily flight from Shanghai to Honolulu.
Of the six coronavirus cases diagnosed in the U.S. to date, one was by airport screening, four were reported by doctors and the other was found by the CDC when it contacted people in the same circles as patients.
China has been affected most by this new coronavirus, which is believed to have transferred from animals to humans at a food market in Wuhan.
As of Friday, the number of cases was nearing 10,000 in China and more than 200 people have died. The fatality rate is estimated to be below 3%.
In 23 other countries, there have been 132 cases confirmed. Among those, only a dozen people from six different countries are believed to have caught it through person-to-person contact because they did not travel to China, according to CDC Director Robert Redfield.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed questions about why the strict federal actions were taken, especially amid one of the most deadly influenza seasons in the United States.
“We have an influenza outbreak here, and we’ve had 8,000 deaths. Why are we paying such attention to the coronavirus?” Fauci said.
“The reason is despite the morbidity and mortality of influenza there is a seasonal aspect to it. You could predict the range of the mortality of hospitalizations as we have over the years. The issue with this is there are a lot of unknowns. The number of cases have steeply inclined.”
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