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Suspected U.S. cases of novel coronavirus rise, CDC says

There are 165 cases of novel coronavirus now under investigation in more than two dozen states, but the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. remains at five, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

On Sunday, health officials in the U.S. said they had diagnosed five patients with the flu-like virus in Washington State, Illinois, California and Arizona. On Monday, 110 people in 26 states had been identified as needing further monitoring.

While the confirmed number has not risen, these numbers are expected to go up, said Nancy Messonnier, director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a call with reporters.

People with fever, cough and respiratory symptoms and who have recently traveled to Hubei Province, China, the epicenter for this virus, (or are in close contact with someone did) should see their doctor immediately, Messonnier said. But still, the overall risk for the American public remains low, she said.

Around the world, health officials have identified more than 6,000 cases of the novel coronavirus. Most are in China, where 132 people have died from the virus, WHO officials said Wednesday. China has attempted to stifle viral spread by shutting down transportation for more than a dozen cities, effectively placing 50 million people under quarantine during Lunar New Year celebrations. The country extended the holiday to Feb. 2, allowing people to stay home from work, in an effort to further contain the illness.

The scale of this quarantine “is unprecedented in the history of the world,” said Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University who also directs the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National & Global Health Law.

In 15 other countries, 68 cases have been identified.

The World Health Organization said it would reconvene its emergency committee to discuss the virus’ nature, severity and unanswered questions on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in Geneva, Switzerland, or 7:30 a.m. ET. Last week, the WHO postponed declaring an international public health emergency, saying it was unclear if that was necessary.

The criteria to declare a worldwide public health emergency has been met, Gostin said. This new and unexpected infection poses serious public health implications, spread globally and has influenced travel, Gostin said, meeting the treaty terms under which such declarations are made.

“Self-evidently, it’s a global emergency,” Gostin said. “It’s on four continents.”

Earlier Wednesday, an airplane chartered by the State Department that had flown 195 U.S. diplomats, their families and other American citizens from Wuhan, China, landed at March Air Force Base near Riverside, California. Medical staff from the State Department were on board to monitor symptoms of passengers.

Before arriving in California, the plane landed to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska, where passengers were screened for viral symptoms. From there, the group was then flown to the military base. Passengers were originally scheduled to land in Ontario, California.

The passengers were to be held at the military base for observation for 72 hours, said Chris Braden from the CDC. They would be isolated from military personnel and families on base and their symptoms monitored, including temperature checks every 12 hours, while staying on base.