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U.S. health officials announce second case of person-to-person coronavirus transmission

A man with a face mask rides the subway in the Queens borough of New York City, U.S. February 2, 2020. (REUTERS/Nick Zieminski)

BY JULIE STEENHUYSEN

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday announced a second case of transmission of the new coronavirus within the United States and provided more detailed plans on how it will handle travelers returning from China as the country works to limit the outbreak.

“We expect to see more cases of person-to-person spread,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a conference call that included confirmation of a handful of new cases, bringing the U.S. total to 11.

Messonnier offered new information on the implementation of the presidential proclamation issued on Friday suspending entry of foreign nationals who had visited China within the past 14 days into the United States, including details on quarantine plans.

Exempted from that order are family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, although they will face a 14-day quarantine if they had been in Wuhan or the Hubei province of China, the epicenter of the epidemic.

The plans were not intended to catch every traveler returning from China who might have been infected.

“Given the nature of this virus and how it is spreading, that would be impossible,” she said.

Passengers will be directed to one of 11 U.S. airports for additional health assessments. If they show virus symptoms such as fever, U.S. citizens and those who are exempt will be transferred for medical evaluation, and will not be allowed to complete their travel plans.

“CDC is working with the states to determine where travelers will be quarantined,” Messonnier said.

Flights with U.S. government employees being evacuated by the State department will go to military bases. They will be under federal quarantine for 14 days from when they left Wuhan.

The CDC has sent additional teams to specific locations where the planes will arrive.

“We do not believe these people pose a risk to the communities where they are being temporarily housed. We are taking measures to minimize any exposure,” Messonnier said.

Those who do not have symptoms will be allowed to continue to their final destination, and will be asked to stay at home as much as possible and monitor their health for 14 days.

Where people will be quarantined may differ depending on the operational plans laid out by states. Some of the designated airports have military bases nearby, while some states have planned to use hotels.

“It is very localized depending on the state and local considerations,” Messonnier said.

Of the five new cases announced on Monday, one is in Massachusetts and four more are in California. Four of the five had recently traveled to Wuhan, where the outbreak originated.

One of the patients in California was infected through close contact with someone in the same household who had been infected in China. It marked the second instance of person-to-person spread of the virus in the United States after such a case was announced last week in Illinois.

The agency said it is currently monitoring 82 people for potential infection with the virus.

Reuters