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HHS Secretary Alex Azar: No public health emergency declared in U.S. for coronavirus

Five patients have been identified in this country, with all having traveled from Wuhan, China, where the disease originated.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

The risk of the coronavirus to the general public in the United States is low, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who is not declaring a public health emergency.

"I will use that authority whenever it is recommended by public health officials," Azar said.

The number of cases in this country is five, located in four states, with all of the patients having traveled from Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus originated.

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In China, the number of cases is 4,500 with 100 deaths, Azar said.

But at least half of the new cases are outside of Wuhan and the Hubei Province.

There are confirmed cases in California, Washington, Arizona and Illinois, but so far, there is no indication that coronavirus in this country has spread from person to person.

"It has not spread at home," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield. "(The coming) weeks and months are likely to bring more confirmed cases, but our goal is to contain this outbreak and to prevent the sustained spread of the virus in this country."

The CDC has decided to expand the number of U.S. airports which are screening passengers for the virus from five to 20, he said.


Azar was trying to reassure the country that the virus is so far contained in the U.S. and that this country has experience responding to such an outbreak, as happened with the SARS virus.

The 4,500 cases reported and the 100 deaths represent the most severe cases in which patients sought treatment or have been hospitalized, he said.

"We also still learning the severity," Azar said. "The cases identified tend to skew to the severe."

The playbook for responding to an infectious disease includes identifying cases, patient treatment and tracking down the people with whom an infected person has been in contact.

Azar said he has offered to help to China and is urging that country to work more cooperatively and with transparency for a more effective response.

"We've been monitoring this virus and preparing for a response since December," Azar said. "The president and I have been speaking regularly about the outbreak."

Agencies such as the National Institutes of Health are assessing the possibility of developing a vaccine.

As a basic precaution, providers should be on the lookout for patients who have traveled to China, especially to the Hubei Province.

"We are working hard to keep you safe, preparing for the possibility this could worsen," Azar said.


This is a rapidly changing situation with 18 known international locations where the virus has been identified, Redfield said.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
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