U.S. Quarantines Americans Evacuated From Wuhan, Declares Public Health Emergency
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Today, the federal government has announced some dramatic new measures in response to the outbreak of a dangerous new coronavirus in China. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein is here with the latest.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey, there.
KELLY: All right, so actually two pretty dramatic announcements today. What were they?
STEIN: Yeah, so the first one was that the secretary of Health and Human Services declared the outbreak a public health emergency in this country. You know, the World Health Organization has declared that worldwide.
STEIN: Now they're declaring it officially in this country. And based on that, they announced several measures restricting how people and what kind of people can come into the United States from China.
KELLY: Measures like what?
STEIN: So beginning at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, any U.S. citizens returning from Hubei, China, which is the epicenter of the outbreak, within the last 14 days will be subject to 14 days of mandatory quarantine. And any U.S. citizen returning from any other part of China who have been there the last 14 days will be subject to 14 days of self-quarantine to make sure they don't have the virus. In addition, any foreign national who's been in China for the last 14 days will be denied entry into the country.
KELLY: All right. And just to clarify, you mentioned Hubei being the epicenter. It's Hubei province. We've been talking about Wuhan. That's the city that people may have been...
KELLY: ...Following in the headlines. OK, that was measure one. What's the other thing that happened today?
STEIN: So, you know, earlier today, the CDC said - announced that it was quarantining 195 Americans already in this country. They'd been airlifted back to the country and we're at a military base in California. Prior to today, they said they were going to hold these people for just a few days, check them out, then let him go home. Today, they announced they were going to officially quarantine them. They issued a federal quarantine, which is a very unusual step.
KELLY: Two full weeks, OK.
STEIN: That's right.
KELLY: You said it's unusual. I mean, how significant is this?
STEIN: Yeah, so the CDC said this is the first time in more than 50 years the CDC has exercise its quarantine authority over Americans. The last time was back in the 1960s to prevent the spread of smallpox. So it's a pretty dramatic step, and the CDC is clearly aware of that. Here's the CDC's Nancy Messonnier.
NANCY MESSONNIER: Well, we understand this action may seem drastic. Our goal today, tomorrow and always continues to be the safety of the American public. We would rather be remembered for overreacting that underreacting.
KELLY: Rob, was there some new piece of information, something specific that prompted the CDC to do this now?
STEIN: Yeah. You know, well, one of these evacuees, they did try to leave the base earlier this week, which prompted California health officials to step in and quarantine that person. But the CDC says that's not really what prompted this. They said really, it's a combination of factors. It's the rising number of cases in China and also new information it kind of confirmed, that this disease can be spread by people who don't have any symptoms.
So here's Dr. Messonnier again.
MESSONNIER: While we recognize this is an unprecedented action, we are facing an unprecedented public health threat.
KELLY: Rob, you mentioned this plane brought Americans home to California back to - back from China. But there may be more planes to come, right? What's the CDC saying about that?
STEIN: Yeah, so they haven't quite worked out the details about that yet. And clearly, this later announcement that they're declaring a national health emergency is clearly going to add in a whole nother layer of complication to this. So this is clearly a very fluid situation. But it's important to point out that everybody is saying, look; we're taking some aggressive steps here, but we want to make it clear this is not a big, immediate threat. To most Americans, the risk is very low. But they're clearly pulling out all the stops here to make sure it stays that way.
KELLY: Thank you, Rob.
STEIN: Sure thing.
KELLY: That is NPR health correspondent Rob Stein.
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