Booker, Menendez demand coronavirus screenings at Newark airport as illness spreads

Booker, Menendez demand coronavirus screenings at Newark airport as illness spreads


By:  Spencer Kent
NJ.com

Amid ongoing fears that the deadly coronavirus will land in New Jersey, U.S. senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez are calling on the federal government to begin screening travelers for the virus at Newark Liberty International Airport.

The new, human form of coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, China, has infected 400 people worldwide — including a man in Washington State. At least 17 people have died, though no one in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC is directing U.S.-bound flights from China to five airports for screenings: New York’s JFK International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport.

Booker and Menedez are questioning why the CDC has not included Newark airport in its screenings. They asked the agency to “provide resources to all of the major U.S. international airports to screen passengers from China and elsewhere who may have been exposed to the Novel Coronavirus,” according to a joint statement.

The CDC could not be immediately reached for comment.

The coronavirus can cause fever, cough and shortness of breath and can develop into pneumonia.

The Chinese government has quarantined Wuhan, sealing off its airport and public transportation systems to prevent the spread of the virus.

Wuhan and Beijing are among the cities that have banned large celebrations of the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. The week-long period begins Friday and includes millions traveling to their hometowns for festivals.

The coronavirus needed to evolve to infect humans — which rarely occurs — further driving fears of this illness. While coronaviruses have been found in various animals, like camels and bats, it needed to mutate to infect humans.

How this happened still remains a mystery for federal health officials.

The SARS outbreak in 2004 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in South Korea in 2015 are the only recent examples of coronaviruses mutating and infecting humans

“We still don’t understand why only certain coronaviruses are able to infect people,” the CDC says on its website.

Dr. Debra Chew, assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said while any new and deadly virus poses public health concerns, there doesn’t appear to be a major health threat to people in the U.S.

“At this point, I think the risk to the public health is low," said Chew, who is also a former epidemic intelligence officer for the CDC.

Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, also believes the risk to New Jersey and U.S. residents is fairly low.

“I still think influenza will kill many, many more Americans this year than (coronavirus)," he said.

Chew said travelers should follow standard hygiene practices, like washing hands often with soap and water and using hand sanitizer.

People should make sure to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not their hands) and avoid close contact with others if displaying any symptoms of respiratory illness, like coughing and sneezing.

Amid ongoing fears that the deadly coronavirus will land in New Jersey, U.S. senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez are calling on the federal government to begin screening travelers for the virus at Newark Liberty International Airport.

The new, human form of coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, China, has infected 400 people worldwide — including a man in Washington State. At least 17 people have died, though no one in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC is directing U.S.-bound flights from China to five airports for screenings: New York’s JFK International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport.

Booker and Menedez are questioning why the CDC has not included Newark airport in its screenings. They asked the agency to “provide resources to all of the major U.S. international airports to screen passengers from China and elsewhere who may have been exposed to the Novel Coronavirus,” according to a joint statement.

The CDC could not be immediately reached for comment.

The coronavirus can cause fever, cough and shortness of breath and can develop into pneumonia.

The Chinese government has quarantined Wuhan, sealing off its airport and public transportation systems to prevent the spread of the virus.

Wuhan and Beijing are among the cities that have banned large celebrations of the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. The week-long period begins Friday and includes millions traveling to their hometowns for festivals.

The coronavirus needed to evolve to infect humans — which rarely occurs — further driving fears of this illness. While coronaviruses have been found in various animals, like camels and bats, it needed to mutate to infect humans.

How this happened still remains a mystery for federal health officials.

The SARS outbreak in 2004 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in South Korea in 2015 are the only recent examples of coronaviruses mutating and infecting humans

“We still don’t understand why only certain coronaviruses are able to infect people,” the CDC says on its website.

Dr. Debra Chew, assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said while any new and deadly virus poses public health concerns, there doesn’t appear to be a major health threat to people in the U.S.

“At this point, I think the risk to the public health is low," said Chew, who is also a former epidemic intelligence officer for the CDC.

Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, also believes the risk to New Jersey and U.S. residents is fairly low.

“I still think influenza will kill many, many more Americans this year than (coronavirus)," he said.

Chew said travelers should follow standard hygiene practices, like washing hands often with soap and water and using hand sanitizer.

People should make sure to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not their hands) and avoid close contact with others if displaying any symptoms of respiratory illness, like coughing and sneezing.