5 cases of coronavirus confirmed in US, risk of spreading remains low, CDC says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday confirmed five cases of the deadly coronavirus in the United States but noted that risk to the general American public remains low.

The five were among 165 suspected cases of the coronavirus, said Nancy Messonnier of the CDC. Of those, 68 have tested negative, while the remaining 92 were unconfirmed, she said.

The CDC has uploaded the full genetic sequence for all five viruses detected in the U.S. and expanded entry screening to 20 U.S. ports of entry where it’s had quarantine stations.

The aircraft carrying hundreds of American diplomats and citizens, sitting on the tarmac of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday.

The aircraft carrying hundreds of American diplomats and citizens, sitting on the tarmac of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday. (AP)

In cooperation with Customs and Border Protection, the agency also was expanding the distribution of travel health education materials to all travelers from China, including 350,000 travel education cards.

“Despite an aggressive public health investigation to find new cases, we have not. The situation in China is concerning, however we are looking hard here in the United States. We will continue to be proactive. I still expect that we will find additional cases.”

The CDC’s announcement came after the U.S. government returned 195 U.S. citizens evacuated from Wuhan, China -- the epicenter of the outbreak -- to the United States. A plane carrying the passengers landed at March Air Reserve Base in Southern California Wednesday after briefly stopping in Alaska Tuesday night to refuel.

The Boeing 747 was originally headed to Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County before it was diverted to the military base in Riverside County “for the logistics that they have,” according to an official.

“We have taken every precaution to ensure their safety, while also continuing to protect the health of our nation, and the people around them,” Messonnier said, adding that all 195 passengers had been screened, monitored and evaluated by medical personnel throughout the journey.

Twenty CDC staffers have been helping to manage the process and no passengers showed the symptoms associated with the coronavirus, she said, adding that the passengers have been given assigned living quarters at the military base and have agreed to stay in isolation for 72 hours.

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The CDC has launched a second stage of screening and information-gathering from the passengers. They will be offered further testing as part of a “thorough risk assessment” and the samples will be sent to CDC, Messonnier said.

“Outbreaks like this are always concerning, particularly when a new virus is emerging. But we are well-prepared and working closely without federal, state and local partners to protect our community and others nationwide from this new public health threat,” Messonnier said. “At this time, we continue to believe that the immediate health risk from this new virus to the general American public is low.”

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Chinese officials on Wednesday said the death toll from the coronavirus had risen to 170, with 7,711 cases reported within the country, surpassing the number during the SARS outbreak that spread across mainland China between 2002 and 2003.

In that outbreak, China confirmed 349 deaths, more than twice the number killed by the coronavirus so far.