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Alex Azar speaks during a Jan. 28 press conference on the coordinated public health response to 2019-nCoV, with Robert Redfield (L), Nancy Messonnier and Anthony Fauci. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

China agreed on Tuesday to allow international experts, expected to include Americans, to work on the ground with their scientists on the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Why it matters: Roughly 60 cases are outside mainland China, where the outbreak has infected at least 4,633 people. While China quickly provided global access to the virus genome, the epidemiology of how the virus works is hard to determine from outside China with little public data.

Details: The World Health Organization announced it will organize the international group "as soon as possible to work with Chinese counterparts on increasing understanding of the outbreak to guide global response efforts."

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a press conference, where he learned of WHO's announcement, that the U.S. would be "delighted" to participate.
  • Prior to receiving the news, Azar urged "more cooperation and transparency" from the Chinese government.

Between the lines: Researchers want to use this opportunity to study whether people can infect each other before showing symptoms, as this might change screening and quarantine practices.

  • Chinese health officials had said some asymptomatic people were infectious, but this has not been seen in the five current U.S. cases, all of whom traveled from Wuhan.
  • "Obviously, we'd have to change our operations if indeed that was a significant issue," National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease director Nancy Messonnier said.
  • In China, scientists also hope to gather data on where the virus may have originated, how fast it spreads and how severe the illnesses are. They plan to obtain specimens to build more robust diagnostics, vaccines and treatments.

The latest: While this is a "potentially very serious health threat," the risk to Americans right now remains low, Azar said. But officials are taking aggressive actions in preparation.

  • The CDC is expanding its entry screening to 20 locations from the five airports it designated last week, Messonnier said.
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci said they are working on "the next generation" of diagnostics they hope will be distributed to states and possibly other nations within a few weeks. Plus, he added they are already developing a vaccine and China is testing antiviral drugs as possible treatments.
  • The U.S. government upped its warnings to say Americans should avoid nonessential travel to China.
  • Until it's determined the virus renders this method ineffective, Messonnier said the U.S. will continue its "tried and true" strategy of contact tracing — the method of reaching out and monitoring all known contacts of any infected people.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Scoop: Border officials project 13,000 child migrants in May

The "El Chaparral" border crossing at Tijuana. Photo: Stringer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous "kids-in-cages" disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.

4 hours ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Senate parliamentarian rules $15 minimum wage cannot be included in relief package

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Why it matters: It's now very likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, as the provision cannot be passed with the simple Senate majority that Democrats are aiming to use for President Biden's rescue bill.