CDC officials expand coronavirus screenings to include Philadelphia International Airport

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- U.S. health officials said screenings for coronavirus have been expanded to include Philadelphia International Airport.

The CDC has already screened thousands for illness among passengers arriving from the epicenter of China's outbreak at five U.S. airports. Officials said they are expanding screenings of international travelers and taking other precautions but for now, they insist the risk to Americans is very low.

"At this point, Americans should not worry for their own safety," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Tuesday.

Along with Philadelphia, the screenings have been expanded to include Anchorage, Alaska; Boston; Dallas; Detroit; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu; Houston, Miami, Minneapolis; Newark, New Jersey; San Diego; Seattle; Washington, D.C. (Dulles); and San Juan.

There's no word yet on when screenings will start at Philadelphia International, but it will follow the same pattern.

"It will be a normal procedure, when a passenger presents themselves to customs and border protection, if they happen to have a travel itinerary that they have gone through that area, or if they present any type of symptoms, then they'll be referred to CDC and screened," said Keith Brune, Chief Operating Officer at Philadelphia International Airport.

United Airlines, British Airways and some other airlines have suspended flights to China and ABC News says the White House isn't ruling out suspending all flights to and from China.

So far, there are only 68 cases of the novel coronavirus outside China and though the virus is spreading rapidly in China, the World Health Organization say there's an all-out effort to keep it more cases from crossing borders.

"All of our guidance is focusing on limiting human-to-human transmission, isolating patients and cases early, and making sure that detection takes place, caring for them optimally, and preventing any onward spread, and international spread," said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove from the World Health Organization.

China has confirmed more than 4,500 people with the respiratory illness, which in severe cases can cause pneumonia, with dozens more counted in other countries. In the U.S. so far, there are five confirmed patients, all of whom had traveled to the hardest-hit part of China - and no sign that they have spread the illness to anyone around them.

Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to send its own scientists to visit China for a first-hand look try to answer those questions. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said it hopes to send in international experts soon.

With an incubation period of anywhere from two to 14 days, travelers may arrive showing no symptoms. But CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier said the screenings are an opportunity to educate travelers that if they start feeling sick - with a fever, cough or flu-like symptoms - after returning from an outbreak zone, they should contact their doctor. That's exactly what the first U.S. patients did.

Azar said he has directed $105 million to fight the outbreak. Among the next steps, the CDC developed a test for the virus and aims to make it usable by state health departments, to speed diagnosis of suspected cases. Research also is underway to develop a vaccine or treatment.

The Associated Press has contributed to this report.
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