State health officials confirmed Wednesday that a traveler from the Chinese province hit hardest by the new coronavirus is being monitored for symptoms, the first instance of a mandatory quarantine under the system of precautions against the disease in place in New Jersey.
The traveler, who landed at Newark Liberty International Airport Tuesday evening, is not showing any signs of the newly emerging disease, which has sickened nearly 25,000 in China and killed 491, as of the last update by the World Health Organization. Fewer than 200 confirmed cases of the flu-like illness have been reported outside of China, and only one death.
“An asymptomatic individual who traveled from China to Newark Liberty International Airport was issued a mandatory quarantine order. While the individual did not present any symptoms, they were in Hubei Province on February 4 and therefore were issued a 14-day quarantine order,” said Nicole Kirgan, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health. “The individual, who is not a New Jersey resident, was transported to a location in Essex County, and the New Jersey Department of Health will monitor the individual for symptoms.”
No cases of the new disease have been confirmed in New Jersey.
Newark Liberty is one of 11 airports in the nation designated as a landing destination for flights from China, and the city is host to one of 20 quarantine stations established by the federal Centers for Disease Control, locations staffed and equipped specifically to screen for coronavirus and other diseases.
“Quarantine is when you take someone who is exposed but not yet experiencing symptoms and you don’t know whether or not they have it,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital in Newark. “You have to isolate them and you wait to see, you monitor to see if they have symptoms.”
Health officials will monitor the traveler for 14 days and, if symptoms appear, send them to University Hospital, where they would be treated in isolation.
“We’re prepared to help the state and, of course, to help folks that might be symptomatic,” said Elnahal, a former state health commissioner.
Elnahal said officials are prepared to deal with varying circumstances. “If we do get notification that there’s somebody with symptoms that is at high risk or high suspicion for coronavirus, we will bring them from the airport to the hospital and put them immediately into an isolation area,” he said.
According to Gov. Phil Murphy, as of Monday night, a total of 350 passengers had been screened.
“We are continuing our partnership with officials … at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as flights from China are rerouted into Newark, where protocols for the screening and handling of passengers have been established in accordance with the CDC,” he said at an event on Tuesday.
Nationally, there have been 12 positive cases, 206 negative and 76 pending, including four in New York. Four cases are under investigation in New York, while a fifth suspected case came back negative.
Meanwhile, hospitals all over New Jersey are preparing for more. Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck serves a large Asian population.
“We’re asking all patients and all visitors if they’ve had recent travel to China,” said Dr. Adam Jarrett, chief medical officer at the Central Bergen County hospital. “And we’re defining recent anytime in the last 30 days.”
Anybody fitting that definition is immediately separated and given a mask until they can be clinically screened. If they’re symptomatic, they’re transferred to the emergency room and then tested for a range of common illnesses, like the flu.
“They’re isolated with mask, and they’re isolated in a pressure room so the air flows through that room appropriately to prevent spread of infection,” Jarrett said. “If all those tests are negative, then there is a concern for possibly having coronavirus. And the only way to test for coronavirus now is to be in touch with the CDC and the CDC does that testing for us. And that is true everywhere in the country.”
Federal officials have ordered a mandatory quarantine for anyone who has traveled to Hubei Province in the last 14 days, and for anyone who’s been in China and is showing symptoms.
Health officials said self-quarantine is a good, play-it-safe option for travelers returning from china who are showing no symptoms. That’s what a handful of Princeton University students have done, who were among the 100 to return from China recently.
According to the CDC, there is no currently no vaccine to prevent infection from the virus that’s being called 2019-nCoV. But health experts advise basic hygiene, like frequent handwashing and covering sneezes and coughs with a hand or sleeve, and remaining home from school or work for those who feel sick.