Coronavirus: Chinese New Year celebrations dampened by Wuhan travel crackdown, Chicagoans worried for family abroad

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There is heightened concern in the Chicago area about the spread of coronavirus, and now a second possible case is under investigation in Texas.

The new case involves a student at Texas A&M University. The first domestic case of coronavirus was found in a Washington State man who had recently returned from a trip to Wuhan, China.

So far, at least 25 people have died in China, and more than 830 others have been sickened. But the World Health Organization said it's too early to consider the climbing cases an international public health emergency.

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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A travel ban is now in place in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus during the Lunar New Year travel rush. The train station and airport are shut down, and ferries, subways and bus service is all halted.

Klarke Wang lives in Chicago, where he works as an architect at his company Variation Design, but he is from Wuhan. He said every member of his family is impacted.

"I feel they are getting nervous, which makes me more nervous," he said.

Wuhan and two other cities are on lockdown, with a total of 18 million people impacted. That's more than the population of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York combined.

RELATED: Coronavirus: China locks down 3 cities home to 18M as viral outbreak kills 17, sickens over 550

In the U.S. five major airports - Los Angeles International (LAX), San Francisco International (SFO), John F. Kennedy International in New York, O'Hare International in Chicago and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta - are all screening for the virus.

In Chicago's Chinatown, there are concerns about family and loved ones.

"Just imagine the Super Bowl going on in China, but it's Chinese New Year and everyone is in a frenzy to travel and connect with their families," said Gene Lee, Chicago Chinatown Special Events.

Those who have loved ones in or traveling to Asia said all travel right now feels risky. Ben Lau, executive director of the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, said his wife left for Hong Kong two days ago to visit her sick sister.

"Before she went to Hong Kong, I bought her some masks," he said.

Wang did the same.

"I bought 120 masks from Home Depot last night and shipped out on UPS with the highest priority," he said.

Wang would have been on his way to Wuhan now, but his architecture firm recently got a new project.

"I don't know if it's a good thing, bad thing," he said. "Good thing is I don't have to be exposed to the virus. The bad thing is I can't spend this time with my family."

It's a difficult, conflicting time for Wang, who wants to see his family but understands the health crisis needs to end first. He's hopeful he'll be able to travel to Wuhan within the next three months.

In the meantime, his grandmother has canceled their family gathering for the New Year celebration. She said it's just too risky for them right now.
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