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A quarantine station at Narita Airport in Japan on Jan. 17 after Japanese officials confirmed a case of pneumonia caused by the coronavirus originally found in Wuhan City, China. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

The U.S. will begin screening Friday night for the novel coronavirus, originally found in Wuhan, China, for flights arriving directly or indirectly from there to three American airports — San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, public health officials announced.

Why it matters: Researchers still don't know the source of the "2019-nCoV" virus or how it's transmitted, but coronavirus' ability to evolve means the outbreak could quickly turn from "worrisome to extremely worrisome," and "proactive measures" should be taken, Nancy Messonnier told a press conference.

Background: The virus was originally reported Dec. 30 by Chinese health officials in Wuhan — a large city with more than 11 million people.

  • There are more than 40 known cases of the virus, which has killed two people and spread to at least two more countries, with two cases in Thailand and one in Japan from people who had been in Wuhan.
  • Chinese health authorities fully sequenced the virus and the data is now in the NIH's database GenBank and in the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) portal.
  • The CDC and other global health organizations have urged health officials in Wuhan to begin exit screening at their airports to look for possibly infected people before they board an airline. Just before the press conference ended, Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's division of global migration and quarantine, said new reports indicate this may have already started.

The latest: Starting Friday night, the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will implement enhanced health screenings to detect ill travelers en route to the U.S. on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan to SFO, JFK, and LAX airports.

  • Passengers will receive a questionnaire asking about symptoms and will have their temperatures taken. If there are concerns, the passenger and family members will be taken to a separate facility for further testing and care.
  • The CDC has testing available based on the virus' genome, but should "imminently" have new diagnostics available, Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, adds.

What we don't know: Researchers are trying to determine where the virus originated, if it can be transmitted from person-to-person, and how long the incubation period may be.

  • Per the CDC, most Wuhan patients are linked to a large seafood and animal market, "suggesting animal-to-person spread." But, others did not have this exposure, which suggests "some limited person-to-person spread may be occurring."
  • Coronaviruses are particularly tricky because they are found in animals and humans, and the cases where animal-to-human infections lead to human-to-human infections can be severe, as seen in SARS and MERS coronavirus infections.

The bottom line: "It's highly plausible there will be a case in the U.S. and that's why we are moving forward to new screening," Messonnier says.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

China deems all cryptocurrency transactions illegal

A person walking past China's central bank in Beijing in August 2007. Photo: Teh Eng Koon/AFP via Getty Images

China's central bank declared on Friday that all cryptocurrencies are illegal, banning crypto-related transactions and cryptocurrency mining, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: China's government is now following through with its goal of cracking down on unofficial virtual currencies, which it has said are a financial, social and national security risk and a contributor to global warming.

Biden's big bet backfires

Two key dealmakers — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) — leave a luncheon in the Capitol yesterday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/L.A. Times via Getty Images

President Biden bit off too much, too fast in trying to ram through what would be the largest social expansion in American history, top Democrats privately say.

Why it matters: At the time Biden proposed it, he had his mind set on a transformational accomplishment that would put him in the pantheon of FDR and JFK.

Biden sinks in swing districts

Photo: Biden speaks about wild fires and climate change in Sacramento on September 13, 2021. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/ AFP via Getty Images

Sudden doubts about President Biden's competence — on Afghanistan, immigration and COVID — are driving double-digit drops in his approval in private polling in swing House seats, The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter writes.

Why it matters: "[T]hese early mistakes go directly to the very rationale of his presidency; that it would be low drama and high competence."