Boston Logan Airport expected to start screening passengers for coronavirus

NEW HAMPSHIRE — Two people in New Hampshire, including a 19-year-old, are undergoing testing for coronavirus, the virus that is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, and has killed more than 100 people worldwide. Those results came back Thursday and were negative, officials tell Boston 25 News.

And Boston Logan International Airport is one of 20 airports in the US that will begin screening passengers for the virus, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced.

On Tuesday, Lua Nguyen was flying from Logan to Vietnam through Hong Kong, and he was nervous.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s the most serious thing we’ve ever seen,” Nguyen said.

Logan officials were still awaiting directives from the Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday on how to implement passenger screening.

Meantime, one Chinese man studying in Cambridge, George Xue, is trying to help.

Xue bought 3,000 masks paying $5,000 for them. His hope is to send them on a flight to China because relatives say they’re in short supply back home.

“I mean we wish for the best but prepare for the worst," Xue said. “I think right now we just try everything we can do to help. Worry does not solve the problem – only if we take actions,” Xue said.

The two people in New Hampshire who were being tested recently traveled to Wuhan City and have developed respiratory symptoms, according to New Hampshire’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.

>>>MORE: Coronavirus prevention, symptoms, treatment: What you need to know

According to Gail Clark, Director of Development, Marketing and Community Relations at Littleton Regional Healthcare, one of the two people who is potentially infected is at that hospital. She confirmed that the patient is a 19-year-old male who had been visiting Wuhan. Clark said the hospital is following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention precautions and guidelines, and they’re awaiting results of the samples they sent to the CDC.

The hospital also said that the patient is an international student at The White Mountain School in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, who went to the hospital on Jan. 23 with mild, flu-like symptoms. The student had recently traveled to Hunan, China, in December and returned to the United States on Jan. 6.

“The risk to our communities in New Hampshire is low, but we want to identify people who may be infected with this new coronavirus in order to prevent spread,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan in a release from New Hampshire’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.

“We have recommended that healthcare providers conduct travel screenings and implement isolation practices for patients with a fever or respiratory illness who report travel to this affected region of China. This is a rapidly changing situation, and we remain committed to providing timely updates to residents of New Hampshire and our health care providers.”

Head of The White Mountain School, John A. Drew, sent a release to the community yesterday afternoon confirming that an “international student” at the school “with recent travel to China reported cold-like symptoms."

Luis Ruuska, Communications and Marketing Manager at the school, told Boston 25 News that school records indicate that the student is from another city in China, not Wuhan. He also said that “it is our understanding that the student may have traveled to or through Hubei Province at some point during winter break (approximately between December 21, 2019, and January 5, 2020).”

“Out of concern for their peers and the broader community, this student quickly isolated themselves and later requested transportation to Littleton Urgent Care at Littleton Regional Healthcare,” state statement continued.

The school said that privacy concerns “prevent us” from sharing specific details about the student or the student’s health, but when the test results are in, which they expect in the coming days, they will share the test results.

They said they’ve been in close contact with the student and their family to “provide support, comfort, and information,” as well with the hospital staff.

As of yesterday when the school released its statement, it said that no other international students have reported symptoms associated with the coronavirus, nor has any other member of the White Mountain Community.

It’s unclear what city, town or medical institution the other patient may be in, but we know they are in complete isolation as their samples, along with the other patients, have been sent to the CDC for further testing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed five cases of coronavirus in the United States.

PREVIOUS: As US tally raises to 5, travelers across the country increase prevention against deadly virus

The coronavirus can be similar to pneumonia, posing the greatest risk to the elderly, children and people with weak immune systems.

“It’s very similar to the flu and we are at the heart of flu season,” said Dr. Jennifer Lo, Medical Director for the Boston Public Health Commission. “So fever, coughing or shortness of breath, those are the symptoms described with relation to the coronavirus. Those are the same symptoms that you would have with the flu.”

In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh says no cases of the virus have been reported in the city, but he and his team are monitoring the situation.

“We are constantly assessing potential threats and we’ll be ready in the case [that] a virus does appear, so it doesn’t spread,” Walsh said.

Scientists believe humans contracted the virus from infected animals at a Chinese market. Since then, doctors and local leaders have urged those experiencing symptoms, especially those who have traveled internationally recently, to get checked out immediately.

“If you have flu-like symptoms and you’re not sure, you’re always best not to sit back and google it,” Dr. Lo said.

Since the virus can be spread through air, people can become infected easily and those who have been infected can spread the virus well before someone shows any symptoms.

However, New Hampshire officials reassure the public that, right now, the risk to people in these communities is low.

Other airports now screening include, Anchorage, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Honolulu, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, San Juan, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Newark.

Boston Logan told us Tuesday, “At this time, we’ve not been notified of any specific changes in terms of screenings at Logan. Any guidance on this will come from the CDC, in coordination with local and state agencies.”

Several local schools, such as Westborough High, have begun canceling their student exchange programs out of an abundance of caution.

“We’ve been participating in this exchange program I’d say for the past 5 years," said Matt Lefebvre, the Assistant Principal at Westborough High. “Unfortunately we’re not going to be able to welcome those visitors this year as they’re not able to travel from China to here but we hope to resume it obviously in the future because it’s been real positive for our school and students.”