Feds Employ ‘Early Warning System’; San Francisco Flu Patients To Be Tested For Coronavirus

FILE – This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Health officials hope to avoid stigma and error in naming the virus causing an international outbreak of respiratory illnesses. But some researchers say the current moniker, 2019 nCoV, which stands for 2019 novel coronavirus, probably won’t stick in the public’s mind. (CDC via AP, File)

Calling it an “early warning system,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Friday that flu patients in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago would also undergo testing for the coronavirus.

In an interview on CNBC, Azar said the threat of the illness was quite low, but that status always has the potential to change rapidly.

“We’re deploying the full force of the U.S. government to protect the health and safety of the American people,” he said.

In China, the illness had sickened 63,851 people by the end of Thursday, up 5,090 from the previous day. The death toll, meanwhile, has risen to 1,380.

California has had the most confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States with nine, of those four have been in the Bay Area. There have been two confirmed cases in Santa Clara County and a husband and wife from San Benito County were being treated at UC-San Francisco Hospital.

The symptoms of the flu can be very similar to the coronavirus so Azar said his agency deployed an “an early warning system” on Thursday, ordering the testing of flu patients for the coronavirus in five cities.

“We are using our flu surveillance network in Seattle, San Francisco, L.A., Chicago and New York, where individuals who present with flu-like or China coronavirus-like symptoms will be tested not just for flu but also tested for China coronavirus,” he told CNBC. “That way we have an early warning system. We have no epidemiological reason to believe that we have cases out there, but we want to be on the safe side.”

Later in the day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the testing would not be taking place in hospitals but in samples sent to five public health labs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago.

CDC spokesman Richard Quartarone said his agency will release more details on how the testing program will roll out next week.

Azar also said his agency was closely monitoring the growing coronavirus outbreak in Singapore, where 67 cases have been confirmed.

“We are accessing the information hour-by-hour,” he said when asked about the Singapore outbreak and possible travel restrictions. “We will take the steps that are warranted if the data supports that. With Singapore, one of the questions is whether we are seeing true multi-generational community spreading…or if we are actually seeing a first generation cluster that is really not that kind of multi-generational spread. We got to get to the bottom of it.”

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Source: CBS