Health alert issued by TSA at Bush airport amid growing concerns over coronavirus

HOUSTON – Local public health officials said Thursday that the coronavirus isn’t new but a new strain in China has been proving deadly and is sparking concerns about spreading to the rest of the world.

In the United States, five airports have started health screenings for passengers coming from China, but the Houston airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport, are not part of the group. Instead, starting Thursday, Transportation Security Administration will begin showcasing a flyer at all security checkpoints at IAH. The flyer is a health alert explaining to travelers headed to Wuhan, China how they can protect themselves from getting sick. There are no direct flights between Wuhan and Houston.

Brazos County health officials are investigating after a Texas A&M student, who recently traveled to China, showed symptoms of what is suspected to be coronavirus. It remains unconfirmed if the student has indeed contracted the virus but he is being kept in isolation while undergoing tests, officials say.

Local health officials say the risk of contracting coronavirus is significantly lower for most people in the area. Harris County Public Health instructed health care providers to make sure patients who are sick, are being asked if they’ve traveled to China. If they haven’t, officials say it’s more likely that they have a common cold or flu, if they suddenly develop upper respiratory issues.

Harris County Public Health also met with local Chinese media Thursday as they have been covering the story extensively. They discussed concerns related to the spread of the virus and the upcoming Chinese New Year.

The World Health Organization said Thursday in a news conference in Geneva that while the epidemic was clearly a crisis in China, it had not yet become a global health emergency. At least 11 million people who live in Wuhan have been quarantined as part of the Chinese government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

Helen Shih, a Houston-area doctor who has family in Wuhan, said things have changed drastically for her family since the Chinese government decided to shut down public transportation.

“We have a lot of Chinese New Year festivals, events, social events, family gatherings that are being planned,” Shih said. “The big decision people have to make is what do with those big events, what do with those family gatherings. That’s kind of a hard decision to make at this time.”

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