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In US, more precautions taken against coronavirus

By LINDA DENG in Seattle and LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-24 00:39

Zhang Hua, a Seattle resident who had witnessed the outbreak of the SARS virus in China in 2002, is not taking any chances with the latest public health threat, the coronavirus.

Zhang, who was in China between November 2002 and July 2003 during the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, told China Daily that she ordered some masks online as soon as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first coronavirus patient in the United States, Tuesday in Washington state.

"My friends also started to order similar masks, as they want to get well prepared," Zhang said.

The risk to the public in King County, Washington, where the first US coronavirus case was confirmed in a man on Tuesday, is considered low.

Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Seattle and King County, said the assessment was made "given that there is only one case identified in Washington and the lack of evidence" of the virus spreading. "In addition, even in China there have been relatively few cases identified to date relative to the size of the population.

"As a point of comparison, there have been a few hundred cases and less than a dozen deaths reported globally as of today, while in a typical flu season there are hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths in the US alone," Duchin said in a letter released to the public Tuesday.

Duchin said the severity of the illness will be determined over time as investigations provide additional information.

"Most of the hundreds of people who have been infected have not had serious illness, although there have been several deaths," he said.

There were 8,098 reported cases of SARS, resulting in 774 deaths reported in 37 countries, with the majority of cases in Chinese mainland and Hong Kong (9.6 percent fatality rate), according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In Los Angeles, a city with a large Chinese American population, the effect of the illness is evident in the precautionary steps people are taking.

Upon a search on the website of the retail pharmacy store CVS, many of its branches in areas with a high concentration of Chinese, such as, Alhambra, San Gabriel and Temple City, reported that their facemasks are either "out of stock", or are in "low stock".

In a notice posted Wednesday, the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles warned Chinese citizens living abroad to protect themselves against the virus.

"The Consulate General in Los Angeles reminds Chinese citizens who travel to the United States to make reasonable arrangements based on their own health status," the notice said.

"When entering the United States, fill and declare true and accurate health status, as well as travel and residential history; and cooperate with the US officials regarding quarantine measures," the notice said. It also asked citizens to contact the consulate general should they need assistance.

On Tuesday, the CDC updated its interim travel health notice for people who may be traveling to Wuhan City, raising the advisory from Level 1, "practice usual precautions", to Level 2: "practice enhanced precautions". It also warned travelers that older adults with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk.

The Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia, canceled a one-week cultural exchange program with a student delegation from Wuhan that was scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Twenty-one Chinese students who have just arrived in the US for the exchange program have had to reschedule their coming week.

"Student and staff health and safety remain our first priority. While health officials believe the risk of illness transmission of the novel Coronavirus from these students is extremely low, we felt it necessary to make this adjustment," Principal Carole Kihm said in a letter to pupils and their families.

Eleanor Chang, president of the American Asia Travel Center Inc, a company based in Monterey Park, California, said several of her clients who had plans to travel to China chose to travel to areas in the US instead.

"It has definitely impacted our business here," she told China Daily. "The number of Chinese people who travel aboard is declining. The number of tourists who want to travel to China is also dropping."

The illness has affected her employees as well. Not only have some decided against spending the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday in China, but some have begun wearing masks in the office. 

"Many members of the Chinese American community are getting worried about this illness," she said.

According to Business Traveler, several airlines are offering full refunds or free flight changes to or from Wuhan, including Air China, Capital Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

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