U.S. Airports Prepare for Potential Travelers with Coronavirus

New virus, originated in China, continues to spread; 5 cases identified in U.S.

By Bob Kerlik

Published January 27, 2020

Read Time: 2 mins


Federal health officials are screening passengers from Wuhan, China, at five U.S. airports to combat the spread of a deadly new virus, while other airports not on the list are preparing to respond as the situation evolves.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting entry screening of passengers for a unique variation of coronavirus on nonstop and connecting flights from Wuhan in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York-JFK and San Francisco.

CDC personnel are working with Customs and Border Protection at the five airports to identify travelers with overt signs of illness and provide enhanced screening for symptoms related to the illness specifically termed 2019-nCoV. Symptoms of the respiratory illness can resemble pneumonia or a severe case of the flu, with fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

Chinese authorities identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in more than 1,000 confirmed cases in China. Additional cases have been identified in other international locations, including the United States, where five cases have been confirmed as of Jan. 26.

“While CDC considers this is a very serious public health threat, based on current information, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time,” the agency reported on its website.

Still, airport officials at facilities across the U.S., including Pittsburgh, say they are prepared. April Gasparri, Senior Vice President of Public Safety, Operations and Maintenance at Pittsburgh International said the airport has a communicable disease plan in place.

“Safety and security are the top priorities at Pittsburgh International Airport. We are in contact with Customs and Border Protection, the Allegheny County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Gasparri said. “Pittsburgh has no nonstop flights from China and as such is not one of the U.S. airports identified for enhanced passenger health screenings. This is an evolving situation and the airport is prepared to respond if circumstances change.”

Other airports said they are similarly prepared.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport spokesman Bill Begley told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week that no additional screening is being required of passengers arriving on international flights there.

“DFW Airport is not among the U.S. airports identified by the Centers for Disease Control to execute enhanced screening of individual passengers for signs of the coronavirus,” Begley said in a statement, according to the Star-Telegram. “DFW Airport’s first responders are trained and prepared to support the CDC and the Tarrant County Public Health Department if enhanced screenings are deemed necessary.”

John Glenn Columbus International Airport already also has a response plan in case the virus becomes more widespread in the United States, spokeswoman Connie Tracy told the Columbus Dispatch.

Travelers can stay up to date with the CDC’s travel health notices related to the outbreak here. The agency issued an alert recommending that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Hubei Province, China.

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