By James L. Curtis, Mark A. Lies, II, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen
Seyfarth Synopsis: First American case reported of deadly new Chinese coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that it is closely monitoring an outbreak caused by a new 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) (coronavirus) first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province China.
Reuters reports that the virus has claimed nine lives and infected at least 470 people in China. The South China Morning Post reports that the “National Health Commission of China confirmed 900 people are still under medical observation.” “The outbreak has been linked to Wuhan’s Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, which has since been closed. Weeks after the market in the city in central China became ‘ground zero’, the authorities said human-to-human transmission played a role in the outbreak.” The CDC indicates that human-to-human transmissions is likely, but the precise method and likelihood of transmission is unclear.
The CDC announced the first case in the United States in Washington State on January 21, 2020. The patient travelled to the United States from Wuhan on January 15, 2020. The patient sought care at a medical facility, where the suspected coronavirus was identified.
As widely publicized, on January 17, 2020, the CDC began implementing public health entry screening at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports. It later added entry health screening at Atlanta (ATL) and Chicago (ORD). The CDC has also activated its Emergency Operations Center to better provide ongoing support to the coronavirus response. The CDC is working closely with Washington State and local partners. A CDC team has been deployed to support the ongoing investigation in Washington State, including potentially tracing close contacts to determine if anyone else has become ill.
The CDC warns travelers in an “Alert – Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions,” that:
- Person-to-person transmission of coronavirus is occurring.
- Preliminary information suggests that older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk of severe disease from this virus.
- Travelers to Wuhan, China, should avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead), and animal markets.
- Travelers from Wuhan to the United States, and other countries, may be asked questions about their health and travel history upon arrival.
Employers would be wise to keep abreast of the CDC website updates on this outbreak. Employers whose employees travel to China for work should take action to notify employees of the health risks, including the latest information from the CDC. Health services employers who potentially encounter the coronavirus should work with legal counsel to ensure that they have made proper notifications to public health authorities and have appropriately trained and protected their employees from occupational exposures. If employees are exposed there may be legal implications under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and state workers compensation laws.
For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team, Workplace Counseling & Solutions Team, or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.