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3 U.S. Airports Will Screen Travelers From Chinese City For New Coronavirus


Starting tonight, health officials will screen passengers arriving in the U.S. from the Chinese city of Wuhan. The screening is to check for respiratory systems caused by a new virus that has emerged in Wuhan, where about four dozen people have been infected. NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: The first passengers scheduled for review will be those coming in on a direct flight that lands at New York's JFK Airport tonight at around 10:00 p.m. Tomorrow, as flights begin landing at Los Angeles and San Francisco airports, health workers will start screening passengers there, too.

Dr. Martin Cetron of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the official setting up this operation. He says it's going to be pretty big.

KELLY: We're expecting that the screening over the next couple of weeks could include as many as 5,000 people across the three airports.

AIZENMAN: These airports received the bulk of travelers coming in from Wuhan. If a passenger has a fever or symptoms of pneumonia, they'll be taken to a nearby health facility for testing. Even in the best case, that will take hours.

MARTIN CETRON: It is unlikely that they will be able to make an immediate connecting flight if they had one.

AIZENMAN: U.S. officials stress that the risk posed by this outbreak is low. The virus is a new strain of coronavirus, a family of pathogens that can cause illnesses ranging from a cold to fatal pneumonias. Since this latest strain was identified earlier this month, only a few dozen cases have been confirmed, and there's no sign yet that the virus can easily spread from person to person.

So why this mass screening at U.S. airports? Dr. Nancy Messonnier is director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

NANCY MESSONNIER: It doesn't take much for a virus in general to go from being worrisome to being extremely worrisome.

AIZENMAN: Viruses mutate, and she says it's plausible a case of this new coronavirus will appear in the U.S. soon.

Nurith Aizenman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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