The secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, declared the coronavirus a public health emergency in the U.S., and announced a number of rules for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals entering the U.S. after trips to China.
At a White House news conference Azar said that beginning Sunday at 5 p.m. EST, the U.S. will take a number of temporary measures to contain the virus:
“Any U.S. citizen returning to the U.S. who has been in Hubei province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure that they are provided with proper medical care and health screening,” Azar said.
“Any U.S. citizen returning to the U.S. who has been in the rest of mainland China within the previous 14 days will undergo proactive entry health screening at a select number of ports of entry and up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine to ensure they’ve not contracted the virus and do not pose a public-health risk.
“Additionally, the president has signed a presidential proclamation, using his authority pursuant to Section 212F of the Immigration and Nationality Act, temporarily suspending the entry into the U.S. of foreign nationals who pose a risk of transmitting the 2019 novel coronavirus.” An exception will be made for immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, he said.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said that beginning on Sunday afternoon, flights into the U.S. from China will be funneled into seven airports: Kennedy International in New York, Chicago’s O’Hare, San Francisco, Los Angeles/LAX, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Honolulu.
Robert Redfield, a physician who is director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emphasized that the coronavirus “risk to the American public currently is low. Our goal is to do all we can do to keep it that way.”
The U.S. officials speaking at the White House news conference said that they were taking a “layered” and “measured” approach to ensuring the safety of Americans.
Azar said those who are subject to mandatory quarantine would be housed at an “appropriate quarantine facility of some kind.”
U.S. citizens returning from China areas other than Hubei would be funneled, screened for signs of the disease and then “asked to self-isolate at home,” Azar said. They'll be monitored by local health departments, Redfield said.
The HHS chief said the quarantine facilities have been selected and would be announced as the Department of Homeland Security implements the funneling system with the airlines.
The U.S. move follows the World Health Organization similarly declaring the coronavirus a "public health emergency of international concern."
The coronavirus appears to have originated in Wuhan, the capital city of China’s Hubei Province.
“The U.S. appreciates China’s efforts and coordination with public health officials across the globe, and continues to encourage the highest levels of transparency," Azar said.
He said the U.S. government has offered assistance to China to stop the virus from spreading there.
Redfield of the CDC said that as of now China has reported nearly 9,700 cases of the disease, and 200 people have died from it.
In 23 other countries 132 cases have been confirmed. Six countries have reported a total of 12 affected individuals who did not travel to China, he said.
In the U.S. six cases have been confirmed and 191 individuals are under investigation for the disease, Redfield said.
“This is a significant global situation and it continues to evolve,” he said.