Detroit Metro picked to receive flights from China amid virus outbreak

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit Metro Airport officials announced Monday the airport would be among 11 nationwide selected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to receive flights from China, where the coronavirus was first reported.

Sunday, DHS started enforcing restrictions for all passenger flights to the U.S. carrying people who have recently traveled from China, airport officials said.

U.S. citizens who have traveled in China within 14 days of their arrival home are only being directed to airports where the federal government has added public health resources to implement enhanced screening procedures, according to the notice.

“Our team at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is committed to assisting our federal partners in their efforts to protect the public from exposure to the coronavirus,” Wayne County Airport Authority CEO Chad Newton said in a statement.

“Although airport staff does not conduct passenger screening, our emergency responders are prepared to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health departments with medical transportation and police escorts, when needed. Also, out of an abundance of caution, we’re cleaning the Federal Inspection Station — also known as the International Arrivals area — more frequently in both the McNamara and North terminals.”

Passengers make their way through the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport.

Also Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services activated the Community Health Emergency Coordination Center to support local and state response to the outbreak.

“We at MDHHS recognize the potential threat associated with this virus and are working to identify any suspect cases in Michigan along with our local health partners,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the department's chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said in a statement.

The center is slated to develop and distribute guidelines and educational materials about the  coronavirus to public health agencies and health care providers as well as coordinate with local health departments, according to the release.

While no coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the state, department officials noted the need for coordination in southeast Michigan as Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus is now a screening location for the illness.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell said Monday she is asking U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who has declared the coronavirus a public health emergency in the U.S., for more details on the quarantine process that the government announced targeting all travelers arriving from China.

"These procedures are intended to prevent the spread of cases from the epicenter of the outbreak to areas in the United States,” the Dearborn Democrat wrote in a letter to Azar, who chairs the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. “However, given the continued spread of the virus, which has now been reported in 24 countries, it is important that we be given information about the specifics surrounding these measures.”

Citing Homeland Security orders, Michigan health officials said U.S. citizens who have been in China's Hubei province within 14 days of their return will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they are provided proper medical care and health screening.

"U.S. citizens who have been in other areas of mainland China within 14 days of their return will undergo proactive entry health screening and up to 14 days of self-quarantine with health monitoring to ensure they have not contracted the virus and do not pose a public health risk," the department said Monday. "Generally, foreign nationals (other than immediate family of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and flight crew) who have traveled in China within 14 days of their arrival, will be denied entry into the United States."

The state health department said there are no confirmed cases of 2019 novel coronavirus in Michigan. According to the MDHHS website, as of Monday, four possible cases approved for CDC testing came back negative. There have been 54 referrals for evaluation.

The CDC website reports 11 confirmed cases across the U.S.  

The man who became the first U.S. patient infected has left the hospital and said in a statement that he is getting better and looking forward to life returning to normal, according to a statement from the man provided to The Associated Press on Monday.

The virus is an epidemic in China, where more than 17,000 cases have been reported, but has not affected enough people around the globe to be considered a pandemic. So far, other countries have reported only a few dozen cases, most involving travelers returning from China and their close contacts. 

While there have been more than 360 deaths, all but one has been in China.

The first cases appeared in December in Wuhan, a city in central China’s Hubei province. Many of the first people infected had visited or worked at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for an investigation. Chinese health officials say they believe the illness first spread from animals to people. They now say it can spread between people.

Many coronaviruses can spread through coughing or sneezing, or by touching an infected person. Scientists believe the new virus can spread from person to person in close contact through the respiratory tract. 

Common symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In serious cases, the virus can cause pneumonia. Some patients have needed oxygen. Others have had only mild illness.

The World Health Organization has said there is not a specific medicine recommended to treat the illness, although some will be tested. For now, doctors are treating symptoms with anti-fever drugs. Some doctors are trying antiviral drugs developed for HIV or Ebola.

U.S. health officials already have tapped into a $105 million rapid response fund and notified Congress that they may need $136 million more.

The Associated Press contributed to this report