O'Hare on Friday will begin screening some passengers for coronavirus
Officials began distributing information Wednesday at O'Hare International Airport and will start health screenings Friday for passengers arriving from the Wuhan region of China, the site of an outbreak of a deadly coronavirus virus that causes pneumonia.
Meanwhile, suburban companies with ties to China are keeping an eye on developments as they consider whether to limit travel to the region.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention workers on Friday will begin health screenings on travelers entering the U.S. on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Steven Bansbach said.
The CDC has determined the virus "presents a low risk to the American public; however, they are taking proactive preparedness precautions," he said.
As of Wednesday evening, Chinese state media had reported the infectious virus killed 17 people in the Wuhan region, the epicenter of the outbreak. With about 440 confirmed cases as of midnight Tuesday, Chinese authorities warned Wuhan-area residents to avoid crowds. The city will stop outgoing flights and trains Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
A Washington state resident who returned Jan. 15 from Wuhan, China, is the first American known to have contracted the respiratory illness. Other cases outside of China have been reported in Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
Passengers who landed around 11 a.m. Wednesday at O'Hare's International Terminal 5 from Beijing, some wearing face masks, said they were concerned.
"We worry about the virus and we're wearing masks all the time," said Yan Jiang, a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who was returning from Beijing.
However, traveler Andy Pang, who was visiting Chicago, said "it's no problem" in Beijing, which is 650 miles from Wuhan.
The illness is a recently identified type of coronavirus that triggers respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, which caused a global outbreak in 2003.
Officials with a number of suburban companies with business ties with China are wondering about travel to Asia in the near future.
W.S. Darley & Co. CEO Paul Darley said his Itasca firm, which ships a lot of products to China, is "monitoring this coronavirus very closely." Darley & Co. manufactures fire trucks and related equipment.
So far, "(we) have not yet put any restrictions on our people relative to China travel. If the situation worsens over the weeks, that will be our next step," Darley said.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in a post on Twitter, "I'm glad CDC will be screening passengers at O'Hare for symptoms of this virus and I will continue to monitor this situation as it develops."
Travelers at O'Hare do not need to take special precautions and will not be affected unless their flights are departing to or arriving from the Wuhan region of China, officials said. During screenings, passengers typically fill out questionnaires and have their temperatures checked. Travelers with fever, cough or trouble breathing might undergo additional assessments.
Those most susceptible are the elderly or people with health problems and compromised immune systems, preliminary information indicates. Authorities noted that despite the fatalities, other patients have been treated and released.
Airports now screening passengers from China for the virus include San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York's John F. Kennedy international airports. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will also start checks this week.
University of Chicago grad student Peiyao Wang of Beijing, who was waiting for her boyfriend's flight to arrive at O'Hare Wednesday, said "because I'm physically in the U.S. I'm not worried about it."
But it's troubling because her boyfriend and parents live in Beijing, she explained.