WEDNESDAY, Feb. 5, 2020 (HealthDay News) –While health experts worry that the coronavirus outbreak in China could become a pandemic as infections surpassed 24,500 worldwide, U.S. officials said Tuesday night that another round of evacuations of Americans from China was underway.
The U.S. State Department said that two planes with Americans on board had left Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, and were on the way to the United States, CNN reported.
These are the second and third such flights from Wuhan since the outbreak began. The three flights have ferried more than 500 Americans in total, CNN reported.
The planes that left Wuhan Tuesday are expected to land Wednesday at two California military bases: Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, and Travis Air Force Base between San Francisco and Sacramento, a U.S. official told CNN.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it had fast-tracked a test for the virus in an effort to help speed screening efforts.
Eleven cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States, with the first patient released from the hospital on Tuesday, Associated Press reported. A couple in California that was diagnosed with coronavirus on Sunday, believed to be the second person-to-person transmission reported in this country, have been moved to the University of California, San Francisco’s hospital because their symptoms have worsened.
There are now coronavirus cases in at least 24 countries outside China.
On Sunday, the United States began to bar entry to any foreigners who have recently traveled to China. The move was announced by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as he declared the coronavirus a “public health emergency.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the American actions were taken because there are “a lot of unknowns” surrounding the virus and its transmission path, The New York Times reported.
“The number of cases have steeply inclined with every day,” Fauci noted.
The temporary entry ban applies to foreign nationals, with the exception of relatives of citizens and permanent residents, The Times reported.
U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to the Hubei province of China, where Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, is located, will be quarantined for up to 14 days, U.S. health officials said. U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to other parts of China will face health screenings and voluntary quarantines of up to 14 days.
“This is an aggressive action by the United States, but our goal is to slow this thing down,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the U.S. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a Monday media briefing. “We have the opportunity to slow it down before it gets into the United States.”
“We felt, scientifically, our recommendation was if we acted now we did have the opportunity to provide additional protection to the United States and Americans,” she added. “So, we made an aggressive decision in front of an unprecedented threat that action now would have the biggest potential to slow this thing down.”
The WHO has already declared the coronavirus outbreak an international public health emergency.
Messonnier had noted Monday that the U.S. State Department would be bringing more people home from Wuhan.
“Over the weekend, the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] sent four additional teams to specific Department of Defense locations where those planes will arrive,” she said at the time.
“These passengers will be under federal quarantine for 14 days from when the planes left Wuhan, same as the 195 folks” who were evacuated last week.
“If we take strong measures now, we may be able to blunt the impact of the virus on the United States. While we recognize this is an unprecedented action, we are facing an unprecedented public health threat,” Messonnier said.
“We are preparing as if this were the next pandemic, but we are hopeful still that this is not and will not be the case,” she added. “This is the first time in 50 years that CDC has issued a quarantine order. We would rather be remembered for overreacting than for underreacting.”
Meanwhile, Chinese officials said Wednesday that the death toll in that country has hit 490, the Times reported. Chinese health officials have confirmed that the virus is spreading from person-to-person. They have also said they believe the virus can be spread by a person who is not showing symptoms of infection, though some health experts have questioned the veracity of a report in the New England Journal of Medicine last week that said it had found evidence of such transmission in Germany, The Times reported.
Outside China, there have been more than 162 confirmed cases of coronavirus in at least 24 countries. Two deaths, one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong, have been reported, the Times said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.