Yesterday and today public health officials in Seattle and Washington D.C. briefed the public on the response to the coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China. During the briefings, officials reinforced that the virus is not currently spreading in our communities.
Officials also announced new actions, including enhanced screenings at more U.S. airports and a new recommendation that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China.
The Port follows the guidance provided by public health experts at the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Custom and Border Protection (CBP), United States Coast Guard, Washington State Department of Health, and Public Health-Seattle & King County during any public health incident. We rely on public health officials to provide the latest risk analysis and recommend scientifically proven steps to keep employees and our community safe.
Actions by the Port
According to public health officials, the current risk to the U.S. public from this novel coronavirus is low at this time, although the emergence of any new virus presents a challenge to public health and health care systems.
However, we are taking steps to ensure coordination with airline and tenant partners, passengers and our employees and to closely monitor any change in the status of our region’s health. In response to this new virus, the airport has increased its use of disinfectant and cleaning in what we call “high touch” areas, like hand rails, escalators, elevator buttons, restroom doors, etc with an emphasis where international travelers arrive. We are making hand sanitizer available to arriving passengers in our international arrivals/federal inspection service area. We are meeting daily with public health officials to determine that these are the appropriate preventative actions to keep passengers and employees safe.
Earlier this month the CDC began enhanced screening at airports that receive direct flights from Wuhan, China. With all flights now canceled from Wuhan, CDC will now transition to enhanced screening at 20 airports with quarantine stations, including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). According to CDC officials, public health staff will monitor for signs of ill passengers who present signs and symptoms of disease. CDC officials explain that this screening builds on established infections disease protocols, which include reviewing information received from pilots, flight attendants, or crew who are trained to spot and report symptoms. Public health officials also explained that this expanded screen provides an opportunity to educate passengers on steps they should take if they do develop symptoms.
The Port of Seattle works closely every day with agencies at the airport who monitor infectious diseases and respond to such situations. All of these partner agencies have infectious disease response plans in place that are reviewed, practiced and updated throughout the year.
What employees and passengers can do
Public health officials still advise that the best preventative actions are the same ones you follow to prevent the flu and common colds. Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. Avoid contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Stay home when sick. Personal hygiene and hand washing continue to be the best prevention. While not protective against novel coronavirus, public health officials also recommend the influenza vaccine. It’s not too late to get an influenza vaccine, since flu season can last into spring.
Because information about the novel coronavirus is updated frequently, people should check often for the latest information. The best local resources are at Public Health-Seattle & King County, Washington State Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
We encourage passengers to check in with their airlines if they have questions about their itineraries.
- Jan. 28 HHS briefing: https://www.c-span.org/video/?468647-1/hhs-secretary-azar-update-us-response-coronavirus
- Jan. 27 King County Council briefing: http://king.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=4&clip_id=8041
- Jan. 27 State Department travel advisory: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/china-travel-advisory.html
- CDC Quarantine Stations: https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/quarantine-stations-us.html