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Coronavirus Reaches the U.S.

Not taking any chances, authorities declare a public health emergency

PUBLIC HEALTH officials in the United States continue to monitor the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (2019nCoV). As this article went to press, nearly 25,000 cases had been reported worldwide, most of them in China. The death toll stood near 500. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, is the epicenter of the deadly virus.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the outbreak a national public health emergency and could shift as much as $136 million within the department to fight the virus. Dozens of cases have been confirmed outside mainland China, in several countries in the Asia-Pacific region as well as Europe, North America and the Middle East. The United States has confirmed 11 cases. More than 260 people in the U.S. are being tested for the virus across 36 states.

As of press time, Washington State, California, Arizona, Illinois and Massachusetts had confirmed cases, with two in Chicago. The patients in Chicago are a woman in her 60s who was diagnosed a few days after she returned from Wuhan, China, on January 13. She transmitted the disease to her husband. Both patients are in stable condition and “doing well” after undergoing treatment, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwardy said during a press conference. The patients will remain in the hospital.

Experts say it’s too early to draw any analogies between 2019-nCoV and the MERS infection of 2014 and SARS infection of 2003, according to the CDC.

The full genome of the 2019-nCoV was first reported to GenBank (NIH) and the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data portal by the Chinese authorities. The CDC has posted in GenBank the genetic sequencing from the individual identified with the novel Coronavirus infection in Washington State, and the virus appears to be nearly identical to the sequence reported by China.

Severely affected individuals have generally been older adults with underlying health conditions. Yet the case in Washington State occurred in a healthy male in his 30s, and the Massachusetts case involves a man in his 20s. On the other hand, some individuals had milder infections that have been treated and discharged.

While it was first thought that all people affected by the virus had visited Wuhan, China, many cases of person-to-person spread inside China and some outside the country, such as in the United States, Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam involving patients who have not traveled to China have been reported.

2019-nCoV is a betacoronavirus, like MERS and SARs, all of which have their origins in bats. The coronavirus started in late December 2019.

The CDC raised its travel alert to Level 4, the highest of its levels, meaning that travelers should not visit China. Starting Sunday, Feb. 2, U.S. citizens, permanent residents and immediate family who have visited China’s Hubei Province will undergo a mandatory 14 days quarantine and, if they have visited other parts of China, they will be screened at airports and asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The last time the CDC issued a quarantine was over 50 years ago in the 1960s, for smallpox

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