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Hawaii Officials Say Don't Travel To China, Get A Flu Shot As Coronavirus Spreads

Koji Sasahara/AP
A group of Chinese tourists wear masks at Ginza shopping district in Tokyo, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.

There is still no reported case of novel coronavirus in the state and screenings of arriving visitors have begun at the Honolulu international airport, the Hawaii Department of Health confirmed at a Wednesday press conference. Nonetheless, residents were urged to take precautions as the number of cases in China jumped, surpassing that seen in the country from SARS.

Novel coronavirus is a new respiratory illness that officials believe originated in Wuhan in Hubei Province, China.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus has spiked to 7,711, overtaking the 5,327 reported in Mainland China from SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The newest number of coronavirus cases includes 170 people who have died compared to 348 in the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.

There have been at least five confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., all of which have been linked to travel in China.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has begun screening for coronavirus at the Daniel K. Inouye Airport in Honolulu. The federal agency is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and focusing on travelers from Wuhan.

As of Wednesday, there have been no local cases reported, said Bruce Anderson, state health director. Officials continue to emphasize that the risk of infection is low but advised residents not to travel to China.

To help the state prepare for possible coronavirus cases, state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park recommends getting a flu shot.

“We want to decrease the burden on our healthcare system on our community to make sure the confusing signs and symptoms of flu don't confuse our health care providers, the health department and yourselves into thinking that, ‘Oh, my God, maybe I have this novel coronavirus,’ when actually what you have is the flu,” she said.

Anderson said those who think they may have the virus should see their primary healthcare provider and not flood emergency rooms.

Hawaii Tourism Authority President Chris Tatum said it is not known how the outbreak might impact tourist numbers from China, but he noted that Chinese visitors make up less than 1% of the arrivals in the state.

Questions remain about how the disease is spreading. State officials know it can go from person to person, but it is unclear how contagious coronavirus is.  The virus was first transmitted to a person from a live animal, as did SARS, which worries some health experts.

Park advised those who have arrived from a travel location of concern, such as China, to continue to monitor their health during the virus' incubation period, which can last as long as 14 days.

The outbreak is having an expanding impact on international travel. British Airways and American Airlines are the latest companies to suspend or reduce flights in and out of China in the wake of the illness, the Associated Press reported.

A flight with about 200 Americans evacuated from Wuhan arrived at March Air Reserve Base east of Los Angeles Wednesday morning and all passed initial health screenings. They will be housed temporarily, although it is unclear how long that isolation will last.

The Americans included U.S. diplomats from the consulate in Wuhan along with others caught in the virtual shutdown of the city. 

Meanwhile, the spread of the virus has forced the cancellation of international sports events, including the first races for the World Cup competition in Beijing. Olympics qualifying tournaments have been relocated from China.

In Tokyo, the first group of Japanese evacuees arrived from Wuhan Wednesday, a dozen of them with cough and fever, including two later diagnosed with pneumonia. They were being treated at hospitals specializing in infectious diseases, officials said.

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