Coronavirus screenings at O'Hare begin amid China outbreak, 14 arriving passengers cleared

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's O'Hare Airport began screening arriving passengers from China Wednesday amid growing concerns over the coronavirus spreading in China.

At O'Hare, some passengers arriving from China were relieved to be back home in Chicago.

"It's kind of scary, man. I'm not gonna lie, I feel pretty blessed to be back in Chicago," said Ryan Boggs, arrived from China.

Some O'Hare workers took precautions, donning masks in Terminal 5.

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Chicago's O'Hare Airport began screening arriving passengers from China Wednesday amid growing concerns over the coronavirus spreading in China.

The screenings at O'Hare are focused on those traveling from and through the Chinese city of Wuhan, where health officials believe the nasty strain of coronavirus originated at a food market. Screeners are looking for symptoms like fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

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O'Hare Airport in Chicago began screening passengers who traveled from or through Wuhan, China, for coronavirus Wednesday.

Officials in Wuhan have shut down travel to, from and within the area, canceling flight departures and shutting down public transit in the city.

An official familiar with U.S. Customs and Border Protection activities at O'Hare said as of mid-afternoon 14 arriving passengers had been screened as part of coronavirus safeguarding. All 14 had passed through Wuhan or were in contact with someone who did, and all 14 were deemed healthy by a CDC official and allowed to enter the U.S.

"I don't know for sure, but we think we saw a lady got pulled aside, and one of the police officers said, 'Did you call the CDC?'" said Justin Pilger, arrived from China.

"We also have like the temperature check at Shanghai airport, so I would say I'm not that worried," said Yuan Xu, arrived from China.

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The CDC is also alerting passengers traveling to China, requesting a flyer be posted at ticket counters at 14 U.S. airports, including O'Hare, warning travelers to stay away from Chinese animal markets.

The new virus is only the seventh identified coronavirus that can infect humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of common coronaviruses include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and fever. However, more severe coronaviruses can cause illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

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The Chinese government now says this virus has killed at least 17 people, infecting more than 400 in China alone.

Tuesday, the CDC announced the first confirmed U.S. case. That patient is expected to be OK.

Still, some travelers are on edge.

"I was really scary because I'm traveling. Also my family is worried about me," said Lie Onichi, who is visiting from Kyoto.

United Airlines released a statement, saying, "The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority. Health officials met United flight 836 upon its arrival at Chicago O'Hare earlier today and met and released two passengers. We continue to follow CDC guidelines and remain in close contact with authorities in the United States and Asia to further ensure the safety of our customers and employees."

Chicago health officials said they are not advising travelers to change their behavior at this point, nor are they advising airport employees or vendors to take any protective measures.

"There should be no panic. People should not panic. We are really looking at a discrete population," said Dr. Sharon Welbel, Cook County Health.

Late last week, U.S. health officials began screening passengers from central China at New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco airports. Officials around the world have implemented similar airport screenings in hopes of containing the virus during the busy Lunar New Year travel season.

Tuesday, the CDC announced that Atlanta and Chicago O'Hare airports would also begin screening travelers. The CDC said these airports see the highest volume of passengers coming from the Wuhan area to the US. According to the CDC, approximately 1,200 passengers have been screened for signs of illness since Friday. No passengers have been sent to the hospital as a result of these screenings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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