Detroit Metro screening arriving passengers for coronavirus

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Editor's note: An incorrect reference to suspected coronavirus cases in Washtenaw County has been removed. One person in the county has been tested and results are pending. Three other Michigan cases tested negative.

Romulus — Detroit Metropolitan Airport is among 20 U.S. airports now screening arriving passengers for coronavirus, airport officials said Tuesday.

China has confirmed more than 4,500 people with the respiratory illness, which in severe cases can cause pneumonia, with dozens more counted in other countries. In the U.S. so far, there are five confirmed patients, all of whom had traveled to the hardest-hit part of China, and no sign that they have spread the illness.

The illness has caused 81 deaths, as of Monday. Without a vaccine or treatments, the world is depending on tried-and-true public health steps to tamp down the outbreak — finding the infected early and isolating them to stem the spread.

The Wayne County Airport Authority is working with the CDC, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, airline partners and tenants to help prevent the spread of the virus, airport officials said in a statement.

Detroit's McNamara Terminal has 12 direct and indirect flights to and from Beijing and Shanghai, China. Border patrol will provide travelers with CDC’s Travel Health Alert Notice to educate travelers on what to do if they get sick with certain symptoms within 14 days after arriving.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the janitorial service has increased the frequency of its cleaning schedule in the terminal’s Federal Inspection Station, also known as the International Arrivals area," the airport said.

Three suspected cases of the virus have tested negative, Michigan health officials said Monday, adding that a fourth possible case from Washtenaw County is being tested.

On Tuesday, state health department officials told The Detroit News results have not come back on the fourth specimen and no additional cases are being investigated.

The CDC is beefing up its checks of incoming travelers. It already had been screening for illness among passengers arriving from the epicenter of China’s outbreak at five U.S. airports. But people who’ve visited other parts of China still may be arriving with stops in other places first. With the notice Tuesday, the CDC is boosting monitoring by sending extra staff to “quarantine stations” to screen arrivals at 18 airports around the country and at two border crossings in El Paso, Texas, and San Diego.

Airport screenings were initially done in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta. That has been expanded to Detroit Metro in Romulus, Michigan; Anchorage, Alaska; Boston; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu; Houston, Miami, Minneapolis; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; San Diego; Seattle; Washington, D.C. (Dulles); and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Internationally, three cases of the virus have been confirmed in France and one in Toronto, Canada.

With an incubation period of anywhere from two to 14 days, travelers may arrive showing no symptoms. But CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier said the screenings are an opportunity to educate travelers that if they start feeling sick with a fever, cough or flu-like symptoms after returning from an outbreak zone, they should contact their doctor. That’s exactly what the first U.S. patients did.

The CDC, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, local public health departments and the state’s health care community are actively monitoring the outbreak originating in Wuhan, China.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who represents portions of Washtenaw County,  said she is monitoring the situation to ensure all preventative measures are taken.

"... I have been monitoring the situation and asking critical questions of CDC and relevant agencies," Dingell said Tuesday. "As a large international airport, I was concerned about passengers at Detroit Metro airport, and I’m pleased to see CDC taking proactive steps to screen all passengers from the affected areas and educate them on what steps to take if they start exhibiting symptoms.

"Coronavirus is scary, but the flu and other seasonal viruses remain more of a threat to Americans. Now is the time for everyone to be diligent."

She urged people to wash their hands frequently and stay home if they aren't feeling well. 

 Monitoring includes special attention to people with symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as a cough or who have difficulty breathing; fever; and who report a travel history that includes Wuhan or contact with an ill individual who is under investigation for coronavirus infection. These individuals are being considered for specimen collection and submission to the CDC for testing.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

The Associated Press contributed to this report.