U.S. health officials said Friday that all passengers from a Chinese city at the center of an outbreak of a new and deadly respiratory virus will be screened upon arrival at three airports in the U.S., starting with New York’s JFK Airport late Friday night.
The only other U.S. airport with direct flights from Wuhan, China, is San Francisco International Airport, which has the next flight scheduled to arrive, on Saturday morning.
The third airport, Los Angeles’s LAX, handles connecting flights from Wuhan, and U.S. officials will be looking for any ill passengers on those flights.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has dispatched officials to those airports just before the peak China-to-U.S. travel season, with an estimated 5,000 people expected to travel from Wuhan to the U.S. for the Chinese Lunar New Year on Jan. 25.
“I think it’s highly plausible that there will be at least one case in the United States,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Friday during a call with reporters. “That’s the reason we’re moving forward so quickly with this screening.”
Overall, CDC officials said they believe the current risk of the virus spreading in the U.S. is low. However, “we’re concerned any time there is a new virus or new pathogen emerging in a population that hasn’t seen it before,” Messonnier said. “What it means is that populations don’t have existing immunity, and we don’t have specific treatments or vaccines.”
The newly discovered coronavirus is called 2019 nCoV. As of Friday afternoon, at least 45 cases had been reported in China. Most have been linked to a large market in Wuhan with live animals, but there is some evidence the virus can spread from person to person. Two deaths have been reported.