CDC quarantines 195 passengers; US declares nCoV public health emergency

Today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a federal quarantine for 195 Americans who traveled from Wuhan, China, to March Air Reserve Base in Ontario, California, on Jan 29 via a charter flight.

The passengers will be kept on the base for 14 days and tested repeatedly for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has caused almost 10,000 cases worldwide.

This is the first federal quarantine issued in more than 50 years, the CDC said. The last quarantine was in the 1960s, to evaluate a potential smallpox exposure.

A few hours after the CDC announcement, the Trump administration declared a public health emergency, according to the Associated Press, and said it would temporarily suspend entry into the United States for any foreign nationals who have recently traveled to China.

Move based on evidence, officials say

"We would rather be remembered for overreacting than underreacting," said Nancy Messonnier, MD, the CDC's director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "We are preparing as though this is the next pandemic."

Messonnier said the decision to quarantine comes as China is reporting a 26% increase in 2019-nCoV cases from yesterday to today, and evidence of asymptomatic spread in Germany was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

"The quarantine offers us the greatest level of protection for preventing further spread in America," said Martin Cetron, MD, director for quarantine and migration at the CDC. "This allows someone who becomes symptomatic to be quickly identified, and, in addition, this is protective for family members."

Yesterday, an unidentified passenger tried to leave the base and was ordered to stay until health officials had cleared him or her. Both Messonnier and Cetron said, however, that the decision to enact a quarantine was based on scientific evidence, and not on that incident.

Trump administration declares public health emergency

In a press conference at the White House today, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency and said that, starting on Feb 2,  foreign nationals who have been to China in the last 14 days will be temporarily barred from entry to the United States.

Americans returning from mainland China will be allowed into the country but will be subject to health screening, while those returning from Hubei province, the center of the nCoV-2019 outbreak, will be subject to up to 14 days of quarantine.

White House officials also said the United states will start funneling all flights from China to seven major airports, where enhanced screening will be conducted.

The move comes after the US Department of State raised travel restrictions to China, telling all American to not travel to the country. It also urged Americans currently in China to leave via commercial flights.

"Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Commercial carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China," the Department of State said on its website. "The Department of State has requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel to China in light of the novel coronavirus."

In response to the State Department travel restrictions, Delta, United Airlines, and American Airlines have temporarily suspended flights to China, as noted in company news releases. According to Reuters, several major international carriers have also ceased flights in and out of China, including Air France, KLM SA, British Airways, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic.

China joins Afghanistan and Iraq as having a "level 4" State Department travel advisory.

The coronavirus outbreak began last month in a seafood and live-animal market in Wuhan and has spread quickly in mainland China and internationally.

Banks, social media respond to outbreak

The travel advisory comes as global economic markets react to the outbreak. Today investment bank Goldman Sachs said the coronavirus outbreak is likely to hit China's economic growth by 0.4 percentage point in 2020 and will potentially drag the US economy lower, as well.

Goldman Sachs revised down China's 2020 gross domestic product growth expectations to 5.5% from 5.9%, Reuters reported.

Late yesterday evening, Facebook announced it would proactively remove misleading posts and images about 2019-nCoV in an effort to stop advertising for false cures and dangerous claims, such as posts promoting drinking bleach to kill the virus. And the Washington Post reported that similar measures would also be taken on the photo-sharing site Instagram.

CIDRAP News report Chris Dall contributed to this report.

See also

Jan 31 CDC news release

Jan 31 Associated Press story

Jan 30 US Department of State advisory

Jan 30 N Engl J Med study

Jan 31 Delta press release

Jan 31 American Airlines press release

Jan 31 United Airlines press release

Jan 30 Reuters story

Jan 31 Reuters Goldman Sachs story

Jan 31 Washington Post story

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