U.S. health officials to start testing for coronavirus in five states

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday it will start testing for the rapidly spreading coronavirus that originated in China through its existing seasonal influenza surveillance system in five states.

The agency said it is working with public health laboratories in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York City to begin testing for cases of the virus.

Laboratories in those cities are already tracking seasonal flu. Patients with flu-like respiratory systems who test negative will be tested for the new coronavirus, Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a telephone briefing with reporters.

So far, the United States has only had 15 cases of the coronavirus, including two instances of person-to-person transmission, the agency confirmed.

“What we’re focusing on right now is containing the virus,” Messonnier said. “With only 15 cases here in the United States, we remain optimistic our aggressive measures have slowed the impact of it here.”

The CDC’s current strategy to fight the virus includes quarantines and travel restrictions, but that may change if the virus takes hold in the United States and begins to spread.

In that scenario, the CDC will put in place “social distancing” strategies such as cancelling mass gatherings, using telemedicine, tele-schooling and remote working to try to disrupt the spread of the virus, Messonnier said.

Earlier on Friday, the World Health Organization said it will be sending a bigger delegation of experts to help with the outbreak in China, but it was still not clear if U.S. scientists would join them.

“We continue to hope CDC staff will be included in that mission,” Messonnier said.

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Tom Brown