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The United States this week is preparing to receive four more planeloads of Americans airlifted from the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak — Wuhan, China — and place those passengers under federal quarantine orders to monitor their conditions for two weeks to prevent further spread of the illness.
Most virus cases in the world remain in China, where 491 people have died and 24,363 more are sick, the World Health Organization reported Wednesday. Outside of China, one person has died in the Philippines and 191 people in 24 countries have been diagnosed with novel coronavirus, which belongs to the same family of viruses as the common cold, SARS and MERS.
The number of confirmed U.S. cases of novel coronavirus rose to 12 on Wednesday, after a case was confirmed in Wisconsin. A total of 293 people in 36 states are under investigation for the virus, including 206 people who have negative test results in the U.S. and another 76 whose results are pending.
So far, everyone with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus in the U.S. is “doing well,” said Nancy Messonnier, director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Meanwhile, the United Nation’s health agency is asking the global community for millions in funding to help stop the virus from spreading heedlessly in nations that are less prepared.
The planes that will return U.S. citizens from Wuhan, China, land this week at four military bases in three states: Travis Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and Eppley Airfield in Nebraska, Messonnier said during a call with reporters Wednesday. She did not have on hand a headcount of how many passengers were on board for those flights.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet passengers as they deplane for screening and intake. The passengers then will remain under quarantine for 14 days — the apparent incubation period for the virus — from the time their flight left China.
“The measures we are taking may not catch every single returning traveler” with a possible case of novel coronavirus, Messonnier said. “If we can catch the majority of them, that will slow the entry of the virus into the U.S.”
The first flight of 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan to escape the illness arrived on Jan. 30 in Southern California. On Feb. 11, federal quarantine orders are expected to expire for those passengers, Messonnier said.
Since that flight arrived last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared novel coronavirus a public health emergency. The U.S. then implemented travel restrictions on some people attempting to fly into the country from China.
These restrictions include suspending entry for foreign nationals who have traveled to China and who are not immediate family of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. U.S. citizens who have traveled in the last 14 days to Hubei province will undergo medical screening and could be quarantined and monitored for up to 14 days.
The American public is paying attention to news of the outbreak. Two-thirds of U.S. adults said they think novel coronavirus is a real threat, according to a recent survey from the PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll, and 61 percent of Americans think the U.S. government is doing enough to prevent the virus’ spread.
Having declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern, On Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked the global community for $675 million to shore up supplies, including respirators, medical gowns, latex gloves and facial masks, to protect health care workers who will serve as the front lines of fighting this virus in countries with weaker health systems that may lack the capacity to detect or diagnose the virus.
“It’s a lot of money, but it is much less than the bill we will face if we do not invest in preparedness now,” he said. “We cannot defeat this outbreak without solidarity.”
That global response will include distributing more diagnostic tests so public health workers can determine who is sick, who is at risk and who needs immediate medical care. Late Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of CDC’s tests. Today, more than 100 kits were being shipped out to CDC-approved labs nationwide, Messonnier said, improving capacity and efficiency to detect cases around the country. More diagnostic kits will also be distributed internationally.
While the “current threat to the American public is low,” this is a moment of possible pandemic preparation that public health officials have spent years preparing to meet, using lessons learned while fighting influenza as “the foundation for our response to this virus,” Messonnier said. She cautioned that nothing should be taken for granted, and that it could be a long time before the global effort to control novel coronavirus could pay off.
“Despite the years of planning, we need to remain humble and expect we may have not planned for everything,” Messonnier said.
Laura Santhanam is the Health Reporter and Coordinating Producer for Polling for the PBS NewsHour, where she has also worked as the Data Producer. Follow @LauraSanthanam
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