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Screenings to be conducted at Atlanta airport for coronavirus, CDC says

The first case of the illness has reportedly been confirmed in the U.S.
Credit: AP Photo/Mike Stewart

ATLANTA — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said Tuesday that Atlanta would be one of five airports that will be adding health screening for a coronavirus originating out of China.

The screenings will begin at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the CDC said. Additional screenings will be conducted at Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport and New York John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The first U.S. case of the virus was confirmed Tuesday, in Washington state.

A Hartsfield-Jackson spokesperson said there is currently only one daily direct flight between Atlanta and Shanghai. There are two to three more that connect from Asia.

"However, according to CBP (Customs and Border Protection), we do not expect to get a large influx of passengers from the affected area," the spokesperson, Elise M. Durham, said.

RELATED: Reports: First US case of Wuhan coronavirus identified

The CDC has characterized the coronavirus as the "2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)," which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The outbreak of the airborne virus has reached other Asian nations such as Thailand, Japan and South Korea.

That confirmed case was a man was said to be in his mid-30s who flew back into the country in Seattle on Jan. 15, before screenings had begun. He began feeling symptoms and reached out to health officials on his own after reading about the illness, the CDC said.

The agency has increased its travel watch to a Level 2 for the virus, indicating "person-to-person spread is occurring" though it is "unclear how easily the virus spreads between people."

The agency adds that older adults and people with already-existing underlying health risks "may be at increased risk for severe disease from this virus."

The CDC said it is in early conversations regarding a vaccine for the virus, and has activated its Emergency Operations Center to "better provide ongoing support to the 2019-nCoV response," a release said.

The Chinese government confirmed earlier Tuesday that six people have now died from the coronavirus, which primarily attacks the respiratory system.

The Atlanta airport spokesperson said Tuesday the CDC "will handle any mitigation efforts related to this issue" and that CBP has said "the American public is not at high risk at this time."

RELATED: China reports 1st death from new type of coronavirus

The spokesperson said airport officials were working with both organizations on preparing to manage any issues over the virus.

Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson released a statement on Tuesday afternoon. 

In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak in China, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is working with partners at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to mitigate the spread of the illness.  As always, the safety and security of all passengers and employees at ATL is of paramount concern.  

Currently, ATL has two direct flights to Asia – to Shanghai, China and Seoul, South Korea. The CDC will be onsite at ATL’s International Terminal to process any passengers who exhibit severe symptoms or who may have come in contact with the disease.

According to the CDC, the outbreak has been linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, indicating an original spread from animals to humans.

"However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting limited person-to-person spread is occurring," the agency says.

The CDC lists runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell as among the symptoms. 

Customs and Border Protection provided the following statement:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have implemented enhanced health screening for travelers entering the United States on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, China due to an outbreak of pneumonia caused by a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This additional health screening is now in place at three U.S. airports-John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

In coordination with the CDC, CBP has measures already in place to identify travelers with overt signs of illness at ports of entry who may be potentially infected with a communicable disease and to minimize the risk to the traveling public. This enhanced screening will be for symptoms specifically related to the 2019-nCoV and will be conducted by CDC personnel upon arrival.

Based on current information, the CDC has determined that the novel coronavirus presents a low risk to the American public; however, they are taking proactive preparedness precautions. More information about the novel coronavirus, including measures that travelers can take to protect themselves, is available on the CDC website.


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