US health officials will check patients with flu-like symptoms for coronavirus


National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier speaks during a press conference today at the Department of Health and Human Services on the coordinated public health response to the 2019 coronavirus (2019-nCoV), January 28, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Samuel Corum

U.S. health officials will monitor people with flu-like symptoms for the coronavirus in five cities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The five labs are in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York City. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the agency, said the CDC intends to add more cities in the coming weeks until the CDC has achieved “national surveillance.”

The plan, Messonnier said, is to provide facilities across the country with equipment for lab testing of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. She added that the system would act as an early warning if the virus spreads that would “trigger a change in our response strategy.”

The announcement comes as the number of global cases of COVID-19 passes 64,000, with more than 1,380 deaths, mostly in China. There are just 15 cases in the U.S. This week, three Americans who were evacuated from the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, tested positive for the virus in California and Texas.

More than 600 Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan remain in quarantine, Messonnier said, and they are being closely monitored for symptoms of the virus.

“This is an extra layer of our response that will help us detect if and when this virus is spreading in the community,” Messonnier said. “All of our efforts now are to prevent the sustained spread of the virus in our community, but we need to be prepared for the possibility that it will spread.”

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