Americans from China virus zone evaluated at military base

Carrying some 240 American diplomats and citizens, a Boeing 747 aircraft sits on the tarmac of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. Chartered by the U.S. government, the plane flew from Wuhan, China, the source of the recent coronavirus outbreak. The plane will refuel while passengers clear customs and go through the Centers for Disease Control screening before heading to Ontario, California. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

This week, worldwide cases of the coronavirus that originated in China in December increased by thousands of people per day, causing United States health officials to bump up the number of airports where they screen for the disease.

As of Thursday evening, the virus had infected more than 7,800 people and caused 170 deaths.

Originally, just five major U.S. airports were screening for the disease, but federal health officials increased that number Tuesday to 20, mostly in major cities on America’s borders. Go to CDC.gov for a map of the quarantine ports of entry.

Passengers arriving on flights from affected areas are screened for fever, trouble breathing and other signs of respiratory illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chinese officials have shut down travel in and out of Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, although 201 Americans were evacuated earlier this week from Wuhan, a city in Hubei.

Jackson Hole Airport Director Jim Elwood said the valley’s airport wasn’t taking any special precautions as of Tuesday night because of the work being done at ports of entry. Since passengers from China would land first in one of the 20 screening airports, sick ones would likely be detected before they made it to Jackson.

However, he said, his staff will monitor passengers for those exhibiting severe signs of illness and follow up with them, if needed.

Public health officials say the novel coronavirus outbreak is a dangerous situation, especially in light of its rapid spread, but they see the danger to individual Americans as low. Human-to-human transmission has been seen globally, but the low number of cases so far indicates a low risk currently in the U.S.

“Right now, there is no spread of this virus in our communities at home,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Tuesday at a news briefing.

That said, the first case of human-to-human transmission in the U.S. was reported Tuesday. Health officials said that the husband of a Chicago woman who traveled to Wuhan began showing symptoms and has been confirmed to have the coronavirus. The woman was the first case of the virus reported in the U.S.

The World Health Organization declared a global emergency Thursday, after days of deliberation. The declaration was made, in part, because human-to-human transmission has been seen in several countries other than China, The New York Times reported.

Local officials say the more immediate health concern is still flu. The Wyoming Department of Health’s weekly influenza report, issued Jan. 24, showed “widespread” flu activity in the state’s five Infectious Disease Epidemiological Geographic Regions. Twenty deaths have been attributed to pneumonia and influenza in the state so far this flu season, though the Health Department report said that number is likely low.

Prevention of both influenza and coronavirus — should it become more widespread in the U.S. — is similar.

Both viruses are spread through coughing, sneezing and touching an infected person. So hand washing; not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding contact with sick people and wearing a face mask are all recommended to diminish the spread of the viruses.

Teton County Health Department Director Jodie Pond said her agency is also encouraging people who haven’t had a flu shot yet to get one.

“The sooner you get it the better,” she said, “because it takes two weeks for immunity to build up.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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