Philadelphia International Airport will be part of an expanded list of airports that will screen travelers for coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced.
“We have been advised that they’re going to start some type of screening process here,” PHL chief operating officer Keith Brune said at the airport on Wednesday.
The process, he explained, "will be a normal procedure, when a passenger presents themselves to Customs and Border Protection, if they happen to have a travel itinerary that may have gone through that area, or if they present any type of symptoms, then they’ll be referred to CDC and screened and referred from there.”
Philadelphia is one of 20 U.S. locations that make up the CDC’s existing quarantine system to limit the spread of infectious diseases from international travelers. “They’re here to screen for viruses and things that are going on year-round,” Brune said.
Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that originated in Wuhan, China, and has sickened thousands. PHL has no direct flights to China.
The CDC first started screening for coronavirus at five U.S. airports. The “enhanced” screening serves two purposes, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said this week.
“The first is to detect illness and rapidly respond to symptomatic people entering the country,” Messonnier said during a Monday news briefing. “The second purpose is critical: to educate travelers about these symptoms of the virus and what to do if they develop symptoms.”
Several major airlines said Wednesday they were reducing service to China amid the outbreak.
American Airlines cited a “significant decline in demand” for travel to and from the region. The company will suspend flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai, and between Los Angeles and Beijing, from Feb. 9 to March 27.
“We will continue to review our flight schedules to ensure we can accommodate the needs of our customers and will make updates as needed,” the company said in a statement.
The airline will continue flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, and from Dallas to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing.
United Airlines also said that it’s experiencing a “significant” drop in demand for China travel, and will suspend 24 flights between Saturday and Feb. 8. The canceled routes will affect flights out of Newark, San Francisco, Washington Dulles, and Chicago.
British Airways, meanwhile, has “suspended all flights to and from mainland China” until Friday, a spokesperson said. The airlines said flights to Hong Kong remain in service.
In Philadelphia, fallout from potential coronavirus exposure has continued. Amid rising concern about the novel illness, the Free Library of Philadelphia announced Wednesday it was canceling all of its 2020 Chinese New Year public performances and programs.
James Garrow, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health, has urged people to maintain perspective about the situation.
“The health department feels that the risk of infection from novel coronavirus to the average Philadelphian is very low," Garrow said in an email.