Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, along with 12 other U.S. airports and the border crossings in El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, have been designated to screen passengers arriving from China for the novel coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Tuesday. The new type of coronavirus, which has infected more than 4,500 people and killed more than 100, is believed to have originated last month at an animal market in Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million people.
These checkpoints come in addition to the five U.S. airports that are already equipped to screen passengers and where direct flights from Wuhan were being funneled before Chinese officials halted travel out of that area: New York’s Kennedy airport, Chicago’s O’Hare airport, and the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Atlanta airports. Passengers arriving at those airports were checked for fever and other signs of illness.
It was unclear Tuesday whether screenings at the newly designated checkpoints will be the same as those being done at the initial five airports. A CDC spokesperson didn’t return calls or emails seeking clarification about what the new screenings entail.
The addition of more screening points comes as cases of the novel coronavirus have ballooned in China over the past few days.
The virus has mostly impacted people older than 60 and those with compromised immune systems.
The first of five confirmed cases in the U.S. was a Snohomish County man who had been traveling solo in Wuhan and flew back to Sea-Tac on Jan. 15, before screening began in the U.S. and before travel out of Wuhan was stopped. He is in satisfactory condition and in isolation at Providence Regional Hospital in Everett.
All the U.S. cases originated in China and public-health officials say there is no evidence the virus is circulating in Washington state or in the U.S.
“At this point, Americans should not worry for their own safety,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a news briefing Tuesday.
The ports of entry added Tuesday already have quarantine stations staffed by medical officers who screen sick passengers. The CDC is sending additional staff to handle the screenings at the airports and border crossings. No flights are being diverted for screenings at Sea-Tac, airport spokesman Perry Cooper said in an email.
In addition to Sea-Tac, the airports designated to add screenings Tuesday are: Anchorage, Alaska; Boston; Dallas; Detroit; Honolulu; Houston; Miami; Minneapolis; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Washington Dulles; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Screening was also added to the El Paso, Texas, and San Diego Border crossings.
On Monday, the CDC expanded its travel warning to advise Americans to avoid nonessential travel anywhere in China, not just in and around Wuhan.
The new virus belongs to a family of viruses called coronaviruses that can mutate and be transmitted from animals to humans.