Health Officials Await Results on Possible Local Coronavirus Case, San Diego Airport Prepared

San Diego County health officials said a possible case of coronavirus was reported locally on Jan. 26 by a patient who recently traveled through Wuhan, China

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A possible case of coronavirus in San Diego County has yet to be confirmed but, in the meantime, the San Diego International Airport is taking a step to be prepared to assess travelers potentially infected with coronavirus.

The San Diego International Airport said Tuesday that it is now one of 20 airports across the United States that has a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine station nearby.

NBC 7's Jackie Crea has more information on the possible coronavirus and how San Diego institutions are preparing.

"The CDC has informed us that if Customs and Border Protection personnel at our International Arrivals facility encounter an ill passenger, they are to contact the CDC directly for further assessment," said Jonathan Heller, director of communications for the San Diego International Airport.

"The CDC has also provided SAN with specific guidance to help local EMS providers responding to medical calls at the airport assess and identify potentially infected travelers," he added.

Heller said the airport is not conducting thermal-imaging scans currently seen at Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Atlanta airports.

“San Diego International Airport is continuing to monitor ongoing developments in this emerging, rapidly evolving situation. We continue to stay in close contact with the CDC,” Heller told NBC 7.

There are no direct flights between the San Diego Airport and any airport in China. Heller said in collaboration with CDC and CBP, the airport has posted informational graphics on monitors in the International Arrivals area that outlines the steps travelers can take if they have recently traveled to China and are feeling sick.

Possible Coronavirus in San Diego County

The County of San Diego Health and Human Services announced this week that a potential case of new coronavirus had been reported to local health officials on Jan. 26.

Health officials said a specimen was collected that day from the potentially infected patient and sent to the Centers for Disease Control for testing. The results from the lab test were originally expected Tuesday but the HHSA said they had yet to be returned to local health officials.

The HHSA now expects those results Wednesday.

The local patient who may have contracted the respiratory disease recently traveled through Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, according to HHSA Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.

At San Diego International Airport some travelers wear masks, but HHSA spokesperson Wooten said they’re not needed.

“There is no community widespread of this virus in San Diego. We’ve had one suspect case. So as of right now, it’s not known to be confirmed so the use of masks is not necessary for the general public,” Wooten said.

NBC 7's Artie Ojeda spoke to someone from Rady Children's infectious diseases team.

At Rady Children’s Hospital, a special infectious disease team of doctors has been in place and trained since the Ebola outbreak several years ago, according to nurse and director of operations Chris Abe.

“You practice all the hard stuff, doing procedures in full protective gear – make sure you can intubate, take lines,” she said.

Patients are now being asked if they have traveled to China recently or have been around anyone who has, Abe said.

If an ill person is identified, the triage process would begin with a couple of questions:

“Have you traveled to China in the last two weeks or around anybody that has been. Second is do you have any symptoms?” Abe said.

If the answer is yes, doctors take the patient to an isolation room. Then a special team could be called in to further assess the patient.

Abe told NBC 7 that the rate of increase of cases around the globe makes it possible the virus will reach San Diego.

The United States and Japan have since begun evacuating their citizens from the most impacted areas of China. China reports 132 deaths and more than 6,000 infected people, as of 9:41 p.m. Tuesday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar addressed the media on Tuesday to provide an update on his agency’s response to the latest Coronavirus outbreak. Director of NIAID, Anthony Fauci, M.D., joined the secretary to provide an update on his group’s work in developing a vaccine for the virus.
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