Amid concerns over the deadly coronavirus, U.S. health officials are expanding their checks of international travelers around the country, including at Boston's Logan International Airport, officials said Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is increasing its number of "quarantine stations" nationwide from five to 20, officials said. The stations are located at airports and other places where health workers regularly check arriving travelers for signs of illness.
China has confirmed more than 4,500 people with the new illness, which can cause pneumonia, and more than 100 deaths. So far, there are only five confirmed patients in the U.S., none on the East Coast, and no sign that they have spread the illness to anyone around them. They had all traveled to Wuhan.
The stations are staffed with medical and public health officers from the CDC and managed by CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.
"This is a serious public health threat," the CDC said on its website. "The fact that this virus has caused severe illness and sustained person-to-person spread in China is concerning, but it’s unclear how the situation in the United States will unfold at this time."
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George Xue is so frightened for family and friends back in China, he bought about 3,000 masks and showed up to Logan, hoping an airline would take them to his homeland.
"They are very panicked about this epidemic," said Xue, who lives in Cambridge. "We are deeply concerned and worried abut them."
Prior to announcement, the CDC had been checking arrivals at only five U.S. airports that once had direct flights from the hardest-hit section of China, Wuhan. While China has instituted broad travel bans, people who had been in other parts of China still may be arriving via other countries.
"These health officers decide whether ill persons can enter the United States and what measures should be taken to prevent the spread of contagious diseases," the CDC said in a statement.
"That's what we're going to be doing," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC. "Identifying ill travelers returning from China so we can make sure they are appropriately treated and don't pass on the illness to others."
Still, federal officials are emphasizing that most people aren't at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
"In the United States, the risk to any individual American is extremely low. We are taking the steps to be prepared for this. We are taking aggressive action, but the individual American, this should not be an impact on their day-to-day life," said Alex Azar, U.S. secretary of health and human services.
At Boston University, precautions include more hand sanitizers, cleaning hand railings and elevator buttons and students being educated on what is going on.