Federal Authorities have added O'Hare International Airport to a Coronavirus Screening Program for Travelers from Wuhan, China

January 21, 2020

Under guidance of the CDC, screening procedures to be implemented this week

Andy Buchanan    andrew.buchanan@cityofchicago.org

Get the Facts: Novel Coronavirus (nCoV)

CHICAGO – The City is working in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal, state and local agencies to implement a screening program at O’Hare International Airport for travelers from a specific region of China in response to cases from that country of a novel (new) coronavirus (2019 nCoV). The CDC announced Tuesday that O’Hare was being added to a list of airports in the United States where enhanced health screenings will be implemented to detect ill travelers arriving in the United States on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, China.

The Department of Public Health (CDPH), the Department of Aviation (CDA) and the Chicago Fire Department are working with the CDC and other agencies to implement the screening program. Based on CDC recommendations, screening at O'Hare will commence later this week, once federal, state and local plans are finalized. Passengers at O’Hare do not need to take special precautions at this time and will be unaffected unless they are traveling to and from this specific region of China.

“While the risk from the novel coronavirus to the American public is currently deemed to be low, we’re taking these proactive measures based on recommendations from the CDC to ensure we are monitoring traveler health appropriately,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, MD, MPH. “We’re working closely with federal, state and local authorities on this and will be ready when screening begins.”

The program is designed to assess and identify potentially infected travelers at these airports: San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Atlanta (ATL), and Chicago (ORD).

“As always, the Chicago Department of Aviation works closely with our federal and local partners to ensure both the safety and security of the traveling public as well as efficient airport operations. Over the years, we've developed deep relationships and gained useful experiences when it comes to addressing situations like the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, and airport contingency preparations began a week ago -- before the CDC initiated this step,” said CDA Commissioner Jamie Rhee. “As both the CDC and CDPH have made clear, this action will impact a very limited group of travelers, and the broader traveling public and airport employees are not at risk. Nevertheless, we will continue to take this seriously, as well as continue working with our partners to ensure the airport community is fully informed.”

Chinese authorities identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in more than 200 confirmed human infections in China and exported cases in Thailand, Japan and South Korea. The outbreak in Wuhan, China, has been linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin to the outbreak. There are ongoing investigations to learn more.

The CDC on Tuesday confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the United States in the state of Washington. The patient recently returned from Wuhan, China, and sought care at a medical facility in the state of Washington, where the patient was treated for the illness.

While the first case of coronavirus has been identified in the U.S., CDPH is reminding Chicago residents and the traveling public that this issue is specific to travelers moving back and forth between this specific region. There is no immediate threat to the general public at this time.

The CDC is providing guidance to the five U.S. airports to:

  • Look for sick travelers arriving from Wuhan, China, who have any of these signs or symptoms: fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.
  • If responding to an illness report from a flight:
    • Remove sick traveler(s) from the aircraft to conduct assessment.
    • Measure the sick travelers’ temperature and check for other symptoms.
    • Ask sick travelers if they were in Wuhan, China in the 2 weeks prior to symptom onset.
  • Based on the sick traveler’s clinical presentation and exposure history, they may undergo further medical evaluation and treatment.  

General airport staff, vendors, and travelers do not need to change their behavior in any way. In addition, travelers do not need to alter their travel plans or adjust their movement through the airport. 

Coronaviruses are a class of respiratory viruses that range from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS and MERS. They can cause fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. Coronaviruses are generally spread via the air, like when people cough and sneeze, similar to the common cold, and not through simple touch.

Many of the patients in the outbreak in Wuhan, China have reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting limited person-to-person spread is occurring.    

The CDC is offering more information and guidance on its web site: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2Fnovel-coronavirus-2019.html