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University of Houston prohibits students, staff from traveling to China

HOUSTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded the number of U.S airports implementing screenings for the coronavirus to 20.

The new list includes three Texas airports, including George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

About 2,000 passengers arrive in Houston from China each week, according to Bush Airport. However, coronavirus screenings are not yet underway. Houston Airport Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Ciaccio said he is not sure when the screenings will start, but told KPRC 2’s Hannah Mackenzie other precautions are in place.

“We’re issuing health alert cards,” Ciaccio said. “If passengers have symptoms, they’re asked to contact their physician or health authority.”

Ciaccio was also tight-lipped on what screenings will eventually look like for passengers arriving from China. He said the details are still being worked out.

Amid the Coronavirus hype and rumors, Mayor Sylvester Turner wants Houstonians to be aware of one key point: “There are no confirmed cases in the city of Houston, in Harris County or the state of Texas,” he said.

As for suspected cases, according to Dr. David Persse with the Houston Health Department, that is not up for conversation.

“We don’t discuss suspect cases,” Persse said. “When we talk about suspect cases, people misinterpret what that means. They think they’re confirmed cases, they react in a way that they don’t need to, it sets off unneeded panic. And secondarily, it changes the way people behave, it makes the situation worse.”

The CDC has issued a Level 3 warning alert for all of China, recommending no one travel to the country unless it’s essential.

Travel ban

The University of Houston has taken the warning one step further. In a memo sent out Tuesday, the university has prohibited students, staff and faculty from all non-essential travel to China.

Turner commented on the move at a press conference Wednesday.

“Those reports, I’m sure have heightened some people’s anxieties,” Turner said. “But I want to stress at this point, there are no confirmed cases in Houston, Harris County or in the state.”

Ahead of spring break, the UH’s decision could mean canceled trips for any number of their 676 Chinese natives.

“I feel for them, I really do,” said University of Houston student Matthew Vianna. “But at the same time, it’s for their safety as well.”

Most students echoed Vianna’s support of the travel ban.

“I’m kind of glad they sent out that type of email as a warning,” Henry Trinh said.

“It’s just kind of scary,” Zachary Rodriguez said. “If it hits this campus, what happens to us?”

No word on how long the University of Houston’s travel ban to China will last, but according to the memo, they look forward to “fully re-engaging” endeavors in the region.