The 2019 Novel Coronavirus: What We Know

January 23, 2020|4:55 p.m.| Jim Blumenstock | ASTHO Chief of Health Security

This week, the first case of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was confirmed in the United States. The current outbreak of this new coronavirus began last month in Wuhan, China and is rapidly evolving and escalating. Hundreds of cases in China have been confirmed, including cases outside Wuhan, with additional cases being identified in a growing number of countries, including the United States. While many cases have reported some link to a seafood and animal market in Wuhan City, there are a growing number of patients who are not linked to any markets, suggesting limited person-to-person transmission in addition to animal-to-person transmission.

This individual is a male in his 30s who was in otherwise good health and arrived in Snohomish County, WA on Jan. 15 after traveling from Wuhan City, China. Feeling ill and aware of the ongoing outbreak in China, he sought medical attention and, after laboratory confirmation by CDC, was confirmed positive on Jan. 21. This individual is in good condition and remains in the hospital for short-term monitoring. No known exposures have been reported with the implicated animal markets in the Wuhan area or by contact with other cases, but details are still being investigated. A CDC team has been deployed to assist state and local public health officials. This strong response was attributed to preparedness planning; solid federal, state, and local communications and coordination; a healthcare facility ready to safely and confidently receive and care for the patient; and an informed traveler who was cognizant of his travel-associated risks, the warning signs of infection, and the importance of seeking prompt medical attention.

Key response actions to date include:

  • The US is among a number of countries now doing entry screenings of travelers arriving from the Wuhan City area. In addition to entry screening procedures that began last week at SFO, LAX, and JFK, screenings will be expanded later this week to include the Atlanta-Hartfield (ATL) and Chicago/O’Hare (ORD) airports and all travelers from Wuhan will then be “funneled” to one of these five airports. As of yesterday, travel in and out of Wuhan City, China has been halted.
  • CDC now has Real-time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR) testing capability for 2019 n-CoV and is in the process of transferring this technological capability to the states.
  • Criteria to Guide Evaluation of Patients Under Investigation (PUI) for 2019-nCoV have been developed also advising healthcare providers to immediately notify their state or local health department if they are caring for a PUI for 2019- nCoV.
  • Standard, contact, and airborne precautions with eye protection remains the recommended level of infection control.
  • Today, CDC revised its Traveler Notice to a Level 3 Warning to avoid nonessential travel to Wuhan, China.

It’s important to note that while this viral strain is novel, the overall public health response is not. As it’s not uncommon to have sick travelers come through aviation ports of entry, existing plans, procedures, and everyday response protocols are being adapted and expanded to address the situation and the capabilities that were developed and honed over the years are now being put to work.

The situation around this novel coronavirus is evolving and we are learning new information almost every day. CDC believes the threat of this virus to the general American public remains low at this time. State and territorial health officials will continue to monitor and assess the situation and take appropriate public health actions to prevent disease transmission. New viruses, like this coronavirus, remind us of the importance of the pillars of prevention and preparedness. A strong public health system is the best defense against future disease threats to our nation’s health.