WASHINGTON – The Donald Trump administration declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a public health emergency in the United States on Friday, setting quarantines of Americans who have recently been to certain parts of China.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said it was the first quarantine order issued by the federal government in over 50 years. Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said the last time a quarantine was used was in the 1960s for smallpox.
“The risk of infection for Americans remains low,” said Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services and chairman of the coronavirus task force set up by Trump. “We are working to keep the risk low.”
Azar described the new entry rules and quarantines as “prudent, targeted, and temporary.” He said the United States is working to complement efforts by China and the World Health Organization to contain the deadly virus in China. Quarantines are imposed on people who may be exposed to an illness but are not yet sick, Cetron said.
U.S. citizens who have been in China’s Hubei province during the past 14 days and are returning to the U.S. States will undergo health screenings and be monitored during mandatory quarantines of up to 14 days, officials said.
Azar also announced a temporary suspension of entry into the United States of foreign nationals who pose a risk for the transmission of the coronavirus.
As a precaution, any U.S. citizen who has been anywhere else in mainland China beyond Hubei province will be screened when they return for evidence of coronavirus symptoms. They will also be subject to self-quarantines of up to 14 days and monitored by local health officials.
All flights from China to the U.S. will be funneled to one of seven airports that are designated ports of entry: New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.
The new rules will take effect at 5 p.m. EST Sunday, officials said.
The government has not declared any outright travel bans from the United States in association with the virus, though private companies have taken action.
Three U.S. airlines – Delta, American and United – have announced they will temporarily cancel all of their flights to and from mainland China out of concern for the coronavirus outbreak.
As of Friday, the outbreak had infected nearly 10,000 people, most of them in China, and killed more than 200 people, all in China.
The White House made its announcement a day after the U.S. State Department recommended that Americans not travel to China. That change followed the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global health emergency over coronavirus.
During the White House briefing, officials repeatedly stressed that the new restrictions are precautionary.
“It really is intended to stop the spread of this virus,” said Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He added that virus is a global threat and “continues to evolve.”