SATURDAY, Feb. 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The United States said Friday it will temporarily bar entry to any foreigners who have recently traveled to China because of a coronavirus outbreak in that country that has sickened nearly 12,000 and killed just over 250.
On the same day, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a seventh case of coronavirus in a man from California who had recently traveled to Wuhan, China.
The U.S. ban, which will take effect on Sunday, was announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as he declared the coronavirus a "public health emergency."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the American actions were being taken because there were "a lot of unknowns" surrounding the virus and its transmission path, the New York Times reported.
"The number of cases have steeply inclined with every day," Fauci noted, adding that there was evidence that people who initially tested negative for the virus actually had contracted it, newspaper reported.
The temporary ban applies to foreign nationals, with the exception of relatives of citizens and permanent residents, The Times reported.
U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to the Hubei province of China, the epicenter of the outbreak, will be quarantined for up to 14 days, U.S. health officials said. U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to other parts of China will face health screenings and voluntary quarantines of up to 14 days.
The U.S. ban came one day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak an international public health emergency and the United States reported its first case of person-to-person transmission of the virus.
On Friday, U.S. health officials also announced that the CDC has issued a mandatory quarantine for the 195 Americans who were evacuated Tuesday from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
The quarantine would restrict the evacuees' movements for 14 days from when they left Wuhan, mostly because U.S. health officials still aren't sure just how easily the virus spreads.
"If we take strong measures now, we may be able to blunt the impact of the virus on the United States," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a media briefing Friday. "While we recognize this is an unprecedented action, we are facing an unprecedented public health threat," she explained.
"We are preparing as if this were the next pandemic, but we are hopeful still that this is not and will not be the case," Messonnier added. "This is the first time in 50 years that CDC has issued a quarantine order. We would rather be remembered for overreacting than for underreacting."
Meanwhile, Chinese officials said Saturday that the death toll in that country has hit 259, The Times reported. Chinese health officials have confirmed that the virus is spreading from person-to-person, and that it can be spread by a person who is not showing symptoms of infection.
In the United States, health officials on Thursday confirmed the first U.S. case of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus.
The patient is the husband of a Chicago woman who was the second confirmed case in the United States. She had traveled to Wuhan and fell ill upon her return home. The husband is in his 60s and has underlying health conditions.
"This second patient [the husband] did not travel to China, indicating the first person-to-person transmission of novel coronavirus in the United States," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
U.S. health experts said person-to-person transmission in the United States was inevitable.
"The main takeaway is this confirms something we already knew: that there was likely person-to-person spread in China with this virus. Otherwise the numbers wouldn't be as high as they are," said Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
In China, the case count kept climbing on Saturday, with cases of coronavirus reaching 11,791, The Times reported. That eclipses the 5,327 cases reported in China during the 2003 SARS outbreak.
Outside China, there have been 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with no deaths reported.
Countries and territories that have confirmed cases include Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, Malaysia, Macau, Russia, France, the United States, South Korea, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Britain, Vietnam, Italy, India, the Philippines, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Finland.
Some cases recorded in Taiwan, Germany, Vietnam, Japan, France and the United States involved patients who had not been to China. No deaths have been reported outside China.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.