(CBS News) – A top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spelled out plans to screen airline passengers arriving from central China for a new virus that has killed two people and sicked dozens of others.
“We’re screening passengers returning from Wuhan (China) into the United States because we want to detect this virus early,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director, of National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta.
“The earlier we detect this virus, the better we’ll understand it, and the better we’ll be able to protect people.”
The CDC will begin taking temperatures and asking about symptoms of passengers at three U.S. airports who traveled from the outbreak city of Wuhan.
Officials estimate roughly 5,000 passengers will go through the process in the next couple of weeks at New York City’s JFK International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.
The first direct flight was expected Friday night at JFK, and the next expected Saturday morning in San Francisco.
More than 40 cases of the newly identified coronavirus have been confirmed in Asia, including two deaths – at least one involving a previous medical condition.
Officials have said it probably spread from animals to people but haven’t been able to rule out the possibility that it spreads from person to person.
At least a half-dozen countries in Asia have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China. The list includes Thailand and Japan, which both have reported cases of the disease in people who had come from Wuhan.
Travel is unusually heavy right now as people take trips to and from China to celebrate the Lunar New Year.