U.S. health officials said Friday they would quarantine 195 U.S. citizens who were evacuated from Wuhan, China, amid an outbreak of a novel coronavirus — the first time in 50 years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken such action.

The order will be effective for 14 days from the date of evacuation.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters health officials were prepared for the possibility that the outbreak of the coronavirus could become a pandemic — the worldwide spread of a disease. “We are preparing as if this is the next pandemic,” she said, stressing that the agency hoped it would not become one.

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“If we take strong measures now, we may be able to blunt the impact of the virus on the United States,” Messonnier said.

She added: “Please do not let fear or panic guide your actions.”

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The passengers arrived at March Air Reserve Base in Southern California Wednesday after being flown from Wuhan, with a stop in Anchorage. The passengers had been monitored for symptoms — including cough and fever — before, during, and after the flight.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that all passengers had volunteered to stay at the base in isolation for a few days while they could be assessed, but one person tried to leave the base that night and was placed under a 14-day quarantine by local authorities.

The federal quarantine issue was ordered for a number of reasons, CDC officials said. Among them: the number of confirmed cases and deaths in China has jumped every day this week; more countries are reporting infections, including incidents of human-to-human transmission of the virus; and evidence documented this week by German researchers that showed a person with no symptoms of the virus passing it on to others.

The virus, known provisionally as 2019-nCoV, has caused nearly 9,700 confirmed infections and killed 213 people in China. About 100 additional infections have been reported in 18 other countries, and no deaths. The large majority of cases outside China came from people who picked up the virus in China and then traveled to the other countries.

CDC officials framed the quarantine decision as the best way to preclude the potential spread of the virus to the people’s families and communities. They said that monitoring the people for 14 days also meant that should any of them become sick, they can be quickly identified.

CDC scientists have developed a test for the coronavirus, but Messonnier said it might not be advanced enough to detect the virus if people are not showing symptoms yet. The quarantine is set for 14 days because that is the longest amount of time the virus is thought to be able to “incubate” in a person before creating symptoms.

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Quarantining people involves restricting the movements of people who may have been exposed to a pathogen but are not yet sick; it is different than isolation, which refers to containing people who are sick. The last time a federal quarantine order was issued for potential cases was in the 1960s for smallpox evaluation, CDC officials said.

The CDC also confirmed Friday that China had agreed to allow some of its experts into the country “to support” the Chinese response and help study the transmission of the virus and the range of severity seen with infections, a spokesperson said. The World Health Organization is sending another mission to China to collaborate on the response and investigation.

The repatriated passengers had been evacuated from Wuhan, the central Chinese city of 11 million people where cases of the virus were first documented last month and where the outbreak is centered. U.S. officials arranged the flight as the virus spread and China imposed lockdowns on Wuhan and other cities, shutting down travel to and from the areas and essentially quarantining tens of millions of people.

One person with a fever was not allowed to board the flight in Wuhan, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Messonnier called the quarantine “an unprecedented action.” But, she said, “we are facing an unprecedented public health threat.”

CDC officials acknowledged that a quarantine came with downsides, including the potential for fear and for the stigmatization of people under quarantine. “We’re taking every measure to make sure people are treated with dignity and respect,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, CDC’s director of global migration and quarantine.

There have been six confirmed U.S. cases of the coronavirus infection. Five were travel-related. The sixth, announced Thursday, marked the first U.S. case of human-to-human transmission; one of the travel-related cases, a woman in Illinois, transmitted the virus to her husband before she was isolated.

U.S. health officials have said since the outbreak started that they expected travel-related cases and for some of those patients to pass the virus on to their close contacts. If they can restrict the virus to cases of limited spread among contacts and prevent the virus from circulating more broadly, it is much easier to snuff out the virus.

On Thursday, the State Department increased its travel warning to Americans, urging them to avoid travel to China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the WHO’s declaration of the outbreak as a global health emergency as part of the rationale for the warning. But WHO officials have stressed the declaration was being made to encourage countries not to impose travel and trade restrictions on China.

Several airlines have halted flights to and from the Chinese mainland, including, as of Friday, American, Delta, and United.

  • Along the way, can we please make it mandatory that people who travel on the plane who is coughing wear a mask. Close space with someone with a flu and coughing incessantly is one sure why to spread this to many people.

    I heard a lot of people coughing, with the sound of congested chest, without wearing mask. Such irresponsible people are one of the reason we have millions of FLU infected people each year.

    They are not aware if their actions could have cause someone death along the way. They never think that if there is a high risk person in the same plane or very close space, that person can die from FLU.

    There is no gain in sharing your misery around. It is just causing the disease to be sustain by infecting many people and come back again to infect you next time, after it mutated.

  • Almost all those who died from the China Corona Virus are from/in China, a seriously overpopulated country, where a very, very large percentage eats raw meats/seafood. Clearly that is a significant source, and fully eliminating it (there, in China) might curb the spread. The low death rate of human-to-human infection elsewhere supports that notion. SO : don’t travel for a few months, and cook your food !!!!

  • Now that we know human-to-human transmission is possible, I do not know why there is a limit on testing to people who traveled lately. If this started back in November, and people have been inter-mixing in airplanes and airports, it is likely already in the US, just not being tested. For example, a person who left Calif, went to Asia, mixed with people in airports/airplanes who had it (and did not know much about it then) … then the Calif person came home infected (yet never traveled to China, just sat near somebody who had it), and has now passed it on to many others.

  • Isolating China is like telling your sick co-worker to stay home until he’s better. And once he’s better, then hopefully, the virus won’t spread any further. The problem we have now is because Wuhan didn’t manage appropriately in the beginning and allowed the virus to spread among crowds in crowded urban areas, then before the lockdown occurred, millions, yes millions, of residents to leave and thus spread it even more to unsuspecting others. So it is no wonder it is exploding in China. And once it exploded, it quickly overwhelmed the health care system, and hence, China is rushing to build containment facilities. The facilities are not so much for treatment, but containment. If China acts aggressively enough and can get this under control, it could actually serve as a huge learning opportunity for how to prevent something like this from happening again. The good news is that virus itself does not appear to be hardy, but it is easily transmissible, so by summer time, the numbers should start leveling off in China. Also, it is possible antivirals can help, but they are currently off label for that. And last, many people who get the virus only have mild to moderate sxs, which is a far cry from MERS or SARS. In fact, you can consider the virus as SARS Lite, and while that is a scary thought, it is manageable if handled competently.

    • ☝️Stated perfectly. I’m wondering why WHO isn’t suggesting infected food servers get their damn butts back to work! Since containment is so detrimental and all. Have the PhDs running the asylum over there ever heard of Typhoid Mary for feck’s sake?

    • Because there was this Peking University respiratory specialist Wang Guangfa who gave the misleading information that it was under control and no human to human transmission. That stupid got himself infected thru the eyes. That make them lost the golden period of not isolating the sick.

      Then he reason out there is not enough data and many things are unknown. If many things are unknown, should one err on the side of caution and instead said it is not sure if there is human to human transmission. Please take caution and wear mask and eyewear. Making the sick people wear mask alone would have slowed the virus a lot.

      Of course there was still the feces that carries the virus, not one check that at the early stage when they have the resource to do so since they are not yet overwhelmed. A scientist approach would have to study it thoroughly.

      But no, this Wang Guangfa, made the opposite and declare there no human to human transmission and under control. What authority does he have to declare this without scientist evidence. He is a disgrace to the medical world. His actions cause many life, yet I don’t see him remorseful but instead made many silly excuses.

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