More U.S. Cases of New Virus as Deadly Outbreak Becomes More Dire in China

The deadly coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, has now spread to four states, with five cases confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Sunday.

The World Health Organization, in the span of just two days, increased the number of confirmed cases reported by China from 830 on Friday to 1,985 cases on Sunday. An unverified video posted on social media and said to be from a nurse in Wuhan claimed that China’s cases really number nearly 90,000. “Without immediate quarantine or effective treatment, one infected person can pass the virus to 14 more nearby. The infection rate is extremely high,” she said, warning people to not leave their homes or go to Chinese New Year parties. She also begged for donations of protective gear for under-resourced medical staff, and warned of a second mutation of the virus that would spread rapidly.

Chinese officials said the novel virus, which has killed at least 56 people, is now believed to be more contagious than previously thought, with Chinese Health Minister Ma Xiaowei putting the incubation period at one to 14 days and telling reporters Sunday that the virus can be transmitted during incubation.

“From now on, the spread of the epidemic is relatively fast, which brings some challenges and pressures to prevention and control,” Ma said. “Experts predict that the epidemic is now entering a more severe and complicated period.”

The CDC said the new confirmed cases in the U.S. are in Arizona and California, adding to the travel-related cases in Illinois and Washington. All five patients had recently returned from Wuhan.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are still in the early days of the investigation – both domestically and abroad. CDC continues to monitor the international situation with our teams on the ground in affected countries, as well as domestically in the four states with confirmed cases,” CDC said in a statement Sunday, vowing “an aggressive public health response strategy” to confront the virus.

CDC has developed guidance for precautions in the healthcare setting as well in homes of people who are infected but may not be hospitalized.

“This is a very serious public health situation. We understand that some people are worried about this virus and how it may impact Americans. Outbreaks of new diseases are always of concern – and in today’s connected world, an outbreak anywhere can be a risk everywhere. Risk is dependent on exposure,” CDC said. “Someone who is in close contact with a person who is infected with 2019-nCoV will be at greater risk of infection and should take the precautions outlined in CDC’s guidance for preventing spread in homes and communities. While this is a serious public health threat, CDC continues to believe the immediate risk to the U.S. general public is low at this time.”

The agency didn’t advise against travel to all of China, but said nonessential travel to Hubei Province should be avoided. Travelers should follow good hygiene protocols including hand-washing and avoiding sick people.

“For the general public, no additional precautions are recommended at this time beyond the simple daily precautions that everyone should always take,” CDC added. “It is currently flu and respiratory disease season, and flu activity is still high and expected to continue for a number of weeks.”

WHO reported at least 2,014 total cases of the virus in the world. Ten countries have reported a total of 29 confirmed cases; three of those patients did not report any travel to Wuhan and at least two of those cases are believed to have been transmitted by a person who had been in Wuhan.

“WHO is providing guidance on early investigations, which are critical to carry out early in an outbreak of a new virus,” the agency said. “The data collected from the study protocols can be used to refine recommendations for surveillance and case definitions, to characterize the key epidemiological transmission features of 2019-nCoV, help understand spread, severity, spectrum of disease, impact on the community and to inform operational models for implementation of countermeasures such as case isolation, contact tracing and isolation.”

The agency said it “has not received evidence that the virus has changed” and “awaits further information from Chinese officials.”

“The strategic objectives of the response are to interrupt the transmission of the virus from one person to another in China, to prevent exportation of cases from China to other countries and territories, and to prevent further transmission from exported cases if they were to happen,” WHO said.

WHO assessed the risk posed by the virus to be very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in an agency briefing Friday that CDC was investigating possible coronavirus in 63 patients across 22 states.

Messonnier said that “the situation continues to evolve rapidly” with detection of potential cases, testing, isolation and contact tracing — and they expected “many more” patients under investigation in the next few days.

“Although Chinese officials have closed transport within and out of Wuhan, China, CDC will continue to conduct enhanced screening at five designated airports: New York JFK, San Francisco, LAX, Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson,” she said. “We are currently evaluating the extent and duration of this enhanced screening.  Every day we learn more and every day we assess to see if our guidance or response can be improved.”

As of Thursday, more than 2,000 people had been screened from about 200 flights. One person was sent for extra evaluation; no cases have yet been discovered through the airport screening.

Dr. Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said “all travelers that are coming from any potential area” are being advised at airports to monitor their symptoms for 14 day and are receiving info on “how to engage the healthcare system safely and have your physician report to the public health infrastructure.”

OUTBREAK: Is America Prepared to Face Growing Biothreats?

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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