It will be up to travelers to identify themselves if they suspect coronavirus symptoms when they arrive at Honolulu International Airport, federal health officials said Tuesday.
Passengers arriving in Honolulu from the Hubei Province of China will receive a copy of a travel health alert notice as they pass through customs. The notice warns them to watch for respiratory illness symptoms, a spokesperson with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Civil Beat Tuesday.
The death toll for the coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, the capital of the central China province of Hubei, reached 106 on Tuesday. Five cases have been confirmed in the United States.
The agency has “reassessed its entry screening strategy” and will rely on customs agents to distribute the health notice. If travelers identify themselves as having possible symptoms, customs agents will refer them to the CDC quarantine station at Honolulu International Airport.
“It’s not necessarily a screen of everybody for it,” said CDC spokesman Scott Pauley. “If they show up and they have symptoms that fit parameters then they will be referred to the CDC’s quarantine station for evaluation.”
Earlier Tuesday morning, a staff member at the Honolulu quarantine station would not answer questions from Civil Beat and directed all inquiries to the CDC national office.
The CDC’s quarantine station has been actively monitoring for certain diseases and flu-like symptoms at the Honolulu International Airport since 2005. It is one of 20 airports nationwide with a quarantine station.
At a press conference Tuesday, federal officials announced an intent to bolster screenings from five major U.S. airports (LAX, SFO, JFK, ATL, ORD) that receive Wuhan flights to a total of 20 U.S. airports, including Honolulu.
Honolulu’s airport was not initially selected for screenings because it does not receive any direct flights from Wuhan.
But the parameters of these screenings were unclear, even to state officials. As of Tuesday morning, spokespeople for the state departments of transportation, health and the governor’s office said they did not receive any specific notice that coronavirus screenings would commence at Honolulu International Airport.
“The Department of Health is not aware of any additional screening that would take place at the airport that is different from what’s been occurring,” DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said.
“Whether or not there’s additional procedures, we continue to monitor communications with the CDC and DOH and certainly HDOT is standing by and ready to help in any way we can,” said Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the Department of Transportation.
The number of confirmed cases worldwide rose to 4,515 on Tuesday, up from 2,835 on Monday. The five cases confirmed in the U.S. were all among people who had traveled to Wuhan. No person-to-person spread of the virus has been detected in the U.S., according to the CDC, which recommended Monday that people avoid all nonessential travel to China.
“DOH and DOT are going to be providing authoritative information and I would urge people to pay attention to their sources of information and make sure that it’s the Department of Health, Department of Transportation, or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said Cindy McMillan, communications director for Gov. David Ige.