A day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the mysterious new coronavirus a “global health emergency,” the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a formal public health emergency in response to the new virus.
The HHS declaration on January 31 gives local and state health departments additional flexibility to get assistance from the federal government to aid in response to the new coronavirus, aka 2019-nCoV.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who issued the declaration, said, “While this virus poses a serious public health threat, the risk to the American public remains low at this time, and we are working to keep this risk low.”
The US government has been leaving no stone unturned in isolating the travelers and medically assessing them for the virus.
On Friday, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Dr. Nancy Messonnier said, “This decision is based on the current scientific facts. While we understand the action seems drastic, our goal today, tomorrow, and always continues to be the safety of the American public. We would rather be remembered for over-reacting than under-reacting.”
The HHS’s declaration of 2019-nCoV as a public health emergency of international concern comes after a recent surge in cases reported by Chinese health officials.
Dr. Messonnier said, “Every day this week China has reported additional cases. Today’s numbers are a 26% increase since yesterday. Over the course of the last week, there have been nearly 7,000 new cases reported. This tells us the virus is continuing to spread rapidly in China.”
“The reported deaths have continued to rise as well. In addition, locations outside China have continued to report cases,” she added, “There has been an increasing number of reports of person-to-person spread, and now, most recently, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine of asymptomatic spread.”
In the United States, the quarantine of passengers would last for up to 14 days from when the plane left Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started.
Dr. Martin Cetron, Director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said, “The quarantine order offers the greatest level of protection for the American public in preventing the introduction and spread. That is our primary concern.”
“Prior epidemics suggest that when people are properly informed, they’re usually very compliant with this request to restrict their movement. This allows someone who would become symptomatic to be rapidly identified,” he continued.
“Offering early, rapid diagnosis of their illness could alleviate a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. In addition, this is a protective effect on family members,” Dr. Cetron added. “No individual wants to be the source of introducing or exposing a family member or a loved one to their virus. Additionally, this is part of their civic responsibility to protect their communities.”
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com