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Coronavirus Screenings Coming To Houston, Dallas And El Paso

Houston Airport System

Several Texas airports will soon begin screening certain travelers for a novel form of coronavirus, as public health officials rush to contain a deadly outbreak that so far has been mostly limited to China. 

Previously only five airports in the United States had been screening passengers for the illness. Now, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is expanding screenings to 15 additional airports, including airports in Houston, Dallas and El Paso. Participating airports include those with a CDC quarantine station, an agency spokesperson confirmed to Houston Public Media.

Officials with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will provide health information to travelers from all areas affected by the outbreak, the CDC says. Those officers will also identify ill travelers with symptoms specific to novel coronavirus and a connection to China to be sent to CDC staff at the airports for evaluation. Screenings will begin at each site “on a rolling basis,” the CDC’s Nancy Messonnier said at a press briefing Tuesday.

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental airport announced it was participating in the screenings Monday night. 

No cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Texas. Officials had tested one student at Texas A&M University and another at Baylor University for the virus. Both tests came back negative

The virus has killed more than 100 people and sickened more than 4,500, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Only five cases have been confirmed in the United States. So far the virus has not spread person-to-person in the U.S. as it has in China and the immediate risk to the general American public is low, CDC officials said in a statement Tuesday morning.

“I don’t think we need to be concerned right now,” Dr. Catherine Troisi, an epidemiologist at the UTHealth School of Public Health told Houston Matters.

This particular form of coronavirus doesn’t appear to be as infectious as SARS, another coronavirus, Troisi said. SARS infected eight people in the U.S. and killed hundreds worldwide, according to the CDC.

“The concern is that coronaviruses, like some other viruses like influenza, can mutate, can change. There is always the possibility that the virus could become more lethal,” Troisi said.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. are in Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington state, the Texas Tribune reported.

On Monday the CDC updated its travel guidance for China, recommending people avoid all nonessential travel to the country. 

Note: This article has been updated to include the latest details on screenings from the CDC.

This story was produced by Houston Public Media