CDC considers expanded screening for coronavirus, spread risk still low

Jan. 27 (UPI) — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials acknowledged Monday that they are considering new travel restrictions for China as the 2019 novel coronavirus continues to spread in the Asian nation, and the world.

The agency told reporters Monday that there have been no new cases beyond the five currently known and that 110 people from 26 states are currently being tested for the virus.

“Expect our travel recommendations to change. I expect to make an announcement within the next day or so,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the agency’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press briefing Monday.

She refused to provide specifics, noting that the agency is currently evaluating the best course of action during this “rapidly evolving situation.”

Chinese officials cancelled all flights out of Wuhan, the city that has been ground zero for the virus, last week.

However, Messonier said that the CDC, working with local departments of health, is still screening travelers at five airports across the country. The agency has opted for a particular focus on those arriving from Hubei, the province in central China where Wuhan is located, or those who have had confirmed contact with someone known to have been sickened by the virus.

To date, screeners have checked more than 2,400 travelers, according to Messonier. The numbers of those detained for screening at the airports has been steadily declining, she added, as Chinese officials have imposed travel restrictions on the affected region.

“We are considering a broadening of that screening” to include all travelers from China, Messonier said.

The United States still has only five confirmed cases of 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019 n-CoV, as of Monday. However, 110 additional people from 26 states are currently being tested for the virus, and 32 others have been tested, and found to be negative.

They remain in isolation until test results are in. The process takes approximately one day, Messonier noted, as the CDC is still recommending that samples be tested in its laboratories in Atlanta.

As of Monday, there have been no confirmed reports of human-to-human transmission in the United States. Chinese officials caused a bit of a firestorm over the weekend when they suggested that human-to-human transmission may be possible during the 2- to 14-day “incubation” period, when those sickened are still asymptomatic.

However, Messonier said the CDC has “no clear evidence” of that at this point.

“At this time in the U.S., the virus is not spreading throughout the community,” she said. “The risk remains low at this time.”

The agency has developed a testing protocol for local labs, which it made public over the weekend. It also plans to develop testing “kits,” which it will distribute to health departments in “priority states” within the next one to two weeks.

However, the agency will continue to recommend that all testing be performed in its labs to ensure accuracy.

“Speed is important, but accuracy is more important,” Messonier explained.