Enhanced screenings to begin at Honolulu’s airport amid growing concerns about deadly virus
HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As concerns grow over a deadly new virus from China, the U.S. government is expanding passenger screenings from five airports to 20, including Honolulu’s airport.
There are no cases of the coronavirus reported in the islands.
But the CDC announced Tuesday that enhanced screening would be expanded to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, and state officials said they were also monitoring the situation closely.
Honolulu’s airport has had a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine station for years. Personnel screen passengers who may be displaying infectious disease symptoms.
There were no immediate details from the CDC on what the expanded screening would entail.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is also a doctor, said the screening is aimed at moving quickly to assess sick passengers and determine if they test positive for the coronavirus.
Green received the medical advisory about the new virus that the Hawaii Health Department sent to physicians statewide, and said there’s a strong system in place.
“We have a good team between the healthcare association, the airports, all of the hospitals so that if God forbid we have a scare or a case, everyone is poised to prevent it from spreading," he said.
Meanwhile, Hawaii travel agencies are getting cancellations for upcoming travel to China. The CDC is urging people to avoid all nonessential trips to the country.
On Tuesday, travel agency Skyway Express was busy fielding calls from people trying to cancel their plans. “Last week, they were so worried but since this week they start to refund tickets, change tickets, cancel tours, lots of people are coming in,” said Peggy Luu, owner of Skyway Express.
Businessman Eddie Flores was supposed to visit a few Chinese cities next month with a group of about 16 real estate brokers from Hawaii.
“We decided it’s better not to take the trip because in case someone gets sick, we might have to be detained so we said ah, let’s stay home,” Flores said.
The symptoms of coronavirus include mild to severe respiratory sickness with fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Despite the new screening procedures, officials say the risk to Americans is still very low.
While CDC considers #2019nCoV a serious situation and is taking preparedness measures, the immediate risk in the U.S. is considered low. Everyone should always take simple daily precautions to help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. https://t.co/qhticS4L77 pic.twitter.com/wXkOxvK3cg— CDC (@CDCgov) January 28, 2020
So far, there are five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. — all of which are on the mainland.
Officials in China say there are about 6,000 cases and at least 132 deaths.
State officials have urged healthcare providers to take extra precautions if they come into contact with a patient who has traveled from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the coronavirus.
Honolulu doesn’t get any direct flights from Wuhan, but there is a non-daily direct flight from Shanghai to Honolulu.
The tourism industry is also closely watching the spread of the virus.
In a statement, Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO Chris Tatum said: “The safety and welfare of Hawaii’s residents and visitors is our main concern. Our team at the Hawaii Tourism Authority has been working with the state Department of Health to monitor the situation. We have also been updating our teams around the world with information given to us by the DOH and CDC.”
The number of Hawaii visitors from China is down about 25% compared to 2018, in large part due to U.S. trade tensions with the country.
From January to November 2019, Hawaii saw about 85,000 Chinese visitors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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