Initial Public Health Response and Interim Clinical Guidance for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

United States, December 31, 2019-February 4, 2020

Anita Patel, PharmD; Daniel B. Jernigan, MD


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;69(5):140-146. 

In This Article

Public Health Response

CDC established a 2019-nCoV Incident Management Structure on January 7, 2020. On January 21, CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to optimize coordination for domestic and international 2019-nCoV response efforts. To date, CDC has deployed teams to the U.S. jurisdictions with cases to assist with epidemiologic investigation and to work closely with state and local partners to identify and monitor close contacts and better understand the spectrum of illness, transmission, and virulence associated with this novel virus. Information learned from these investigations will help inform response actions. CDC has closely monitored the global impact of this virus with staff members positioned in CDC offices around the world, including mainland China, and in coordination with other countries and WHO. This coordination has included deploying CDC staff members to work with WHO and providing active support to CDC offices in affected countries. In addition, CDC in response to the escalating risks of travel from China has issued a series of Travelers' Health Notices for both Wuhan and the rest of China regarding the 2019-nCoV outbreak. On January 27, CDC issued a Level 3 travel notice for travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to mainland China.**

U.S. quarantine stations, located at 18 major U.S. ports of entry, are part of a comprehensive regulatory system authorized under section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code Section 264), that limits the introduction of infectious diseases into the United States to prevent their spread. On January 17, consistent with existing communicable disease response protocols, CDC Quarantine staff members instituted enhanced entry screening of travelers on direct and connecting flights from Wuhan, China, arriving at three major U.S. airports: Los Angeles (LAX), New York City (JFK), and San Francisco (SFO),†† which then expanded to include travelers arriving in Atlanta (ATL) and Chicago (ORD). These five airports together receive approximately 85% of all air travelers from Wuhan, China, to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers identified travelers arriving from Wuhan and referred them to CDC for health screening.§§ Any traveler from Wuhan with signs or symptoms of illness (e.g., fever, cough, or difficulty breathing) received a more comprehensive public health assessment performed by CDC public health and medical officers.¶¶ All travelers from Wuhan were also provided CDC's Travel Health Alert Notice (T-HAN)*** that advised them to monitor their health for 14 days and described recommended actions to take if relevant symptoms develop. As of February 1, 2020, a total of 3,099 persons on 437 flights were screened; five symptomatic travelers were referred by CDC to local health care providers for further medical evaluation, and one of these persons tested positive for 2019-nCoV.

On January 24, 2020, travel bans began to be instituted by the Chinese government, resulting in restricted travel in and out of Hubei Province, including the city of Wuhan, and fewer travelers undergoing entry screening in the United States. In response to the escalating risks associated with travel from mainland China, on January 31, 2020, the Presidential Proclamation further refined the border health strategy to temporarily suspend entry, undergo additional screening, or possible quarantine for individuals that have visited China (excluding Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) in the past 14 days. These enhanced entry screening efforts are taking place at 11 airports at which all air travelers from China are being directed.

§§CDC's initial health screening includes a measurement of each traveler's temperature with a handheld noncontact thermometer, observation of these travelers for visible signs of respiratory illness (e.g., cough or difficulty breathing), and review of symptoms through a self-administered questionnaire.
¶¶The more comprehensive public health assessment determines, based on the traveler's illness and exposure, whether the traveler should be taken to a hospital for further medical evaluation and care, which might include testing for 2019-nCoV.