Beginning Sunday, U.S. citizens returning home after recently traveling to the Hubei province of China will be quarantined up to 14 days. Those who have been to other parts of China within the past 14 days will be subject to “proactive entry screening” and up to 14 days of monitoring and self-quarantine.
Delta Air Lines has decided to suspend all U.S. to China flights beginning next Thursday through April 30, including its Atlanta-Shanghai route. Other airlines also said they would stop flying to the country.
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Flights still operating from China to the U.S. will be funneled to Atlanta and six other major airports for screening. Hartsfield-Jackson has quarantine facilities in the international terminal, on Concourse F.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the risk to the American public is “low” at this time. Because there are many unknowns about the virus, Azar said, officials want to ensure the risk remains low.
There are seven confirmed cases in the United States, none in Georgia.
Sandy Springs-based UPS is airlifting supplies of respirator masks and protective gear to China for use by health-care workers. The shipping giant said its UPS Foundation is working with two Georgia nonprofits — MAP International and MedShare — and providing free transport of the equipment.
UPS, which has more than 6,000 employees in China, also has suspended some pickups and deliveries in China and other countries in Asia amid the coronavirus outbreak. And it is deferring non-critical travel to Asia “out of an abundance of caution.”
Other Georgia-based companies have taken similar steps. Home Depot had already put a hold on all corporate travel to and from China. Cola-Cola said it suspended business travel to and from mainland China until the end of March. And Coca-Cola system offices and some factories in China were shuttered, though the company said it is working to re-open some of the facilities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ordered a federal quarantine for all 195 people who were evacuated earlier this week from Wuhan on a U.S. government-chartered flight for American consulate staffers and private U.S. citizens. The quarantine, the first order of its kind in 50 years, will last for 14 days from when the plane left Wuhan, CDC health officials said at a news conference Friday.
Chinese officials have agreed to permit teams of experts, coordinated by WHO, to visit China to help contain the outbreak.
Mark Jackwood, a University of Georgia molecular virologist who studies avian coronaviruses, said his concern about the fast-spreading virus is high – a 7 or 8 on a 10-point scale.
“The situation is changing by the hour. The cases continue to go up,” he said.
Alex Everett first heard about the coronavirus a couple weeks ago while recovering from an unrelated gastrointestinal and blood infection at an international hospital in Shanghai.
As he was being released from the hospital, Everett grabbed a few surgical masks. Little did he know he would end up using them constantly during his last days in China.
Everett, who was on track to complete a master’s program in July, was initially reluctant to head home to Georgia. The risk for coronavirus seemed extremely low, and daily life in Shanghai seemed relatively normal, albeit slightly more quiet than usual. Then, everything changed.
Chinese authorities shut down almost all transit going in and out of Wuhan to try to contain the virus. And U.S. and foreign embassies began evacuating personnel.
That’s when the Everetts insisted Alex cut short his internship, pack his bags and catch the first available flight home.
During his last days in Shanghai, Alex Everett barely left his apartment. When he did, it was only for food and water. He would wear the masks, which were suddenly ubiquitous in China.
Despite having no symptoms of the coronavirus, he said he plans to self-quarantine for 14 days at home.
The mysterious coronavirus appears to be more contagious, but less likely to result in death, than its cousin, SARS, which killed 1 in 10 infected patients during the 2003 epidemic. UGA’s Jackwood said early data suggests the new coronavirus has a fatality rate of about 3%, though he cautioned that viruses can change.
Jackwood said the flu, which strikes several million in the U.S. annually, is far more of a health threat to Americans. Every year, tens of thousands of people in the U.S. die from the flu. In Georgia alone, where flu activity continues to be high and widespread, 37 people have died from the illness this season. And more than 1,000 people in metro Atlanta have been hospitalized for flu this season.
Admittedly, the flu feels familiar, almost predictable, even though the severity varies year to year, Jackwood said.
“With this virus, we don’t know how bad it’s going to get,” he said. “And that’s where the fear comes in. It’s the fear of the unknown.”
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Staff writers Kelly Yamanouchi, Matt Kempner and Michael Kanell contributed to this article.