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Travelers From China Concerned About Coronavirus As They Come Into O'Hare

CHICAGO (CBS) -- New efforts have begun in the interest of containing the spread of the frightening new coronavirus strain.

The Chinese city of Wuhan where the outbreak started, population 11 million, is shutting down outbound flights and trains.

Meanwhile, O'Hare International Airport this week officially started screening travelers arriving from China.

CBS 2's Marissa Parra talked with some of those passengers Wednesday, and many were concerned.

FROM CBS NEWS: What Is The Deadly Coronavirus Illness Now Blamed For 17 Deaths In China?

When CBS 2 was at O'Hare, a flight touched down carrying some passengers from Wuhan, where officials said the virus – which started as a mystery – has claimed multiple lives.

Customs and Border Patrol and travelers said they are not taking any chances.

There were waves of face masks scattered throughout the O'Hare International Terminal on Wednesday – especially on flights coming from China.

"I asked them to wear facemasks just in case," said Rui Kou, who was arriving from Beijing.

She said she was doing so just in case of a coronavirus contamination. And she's not alone.

The facemasks are not an unusual sight in an airport – especially in the international travel area. But they were seen in unusually high numbers on Wednesday, from travelers who do not normally wear them.

"I just bought a mask, that's about it," said Justin Pilger, who had flown in from Shanghai, "because I was scared."

But the real concern for officials are the travelers who may have passed through Wuhan, a city in central China, which is thought to be the epicenter of the virus.

And although not all the travelers from Shanghai came directly from Wuhan, some did.

"On the plane, a lot of people were coughing, and we were just like so scared," said Jennifer Zhang, who was arriving from Shanghai.

A man in his 30s was being treated this week for the coronavirus at a hospital outside of Seattle.

His was the first diagnosed case of the virus in the U.S.

The symptoms of a coronavirus infection include fever, cough and trouble breathing. In extreme situations, the symptoms can also include kidney failure, pneumonia, and even death.

So far, there is no vaccine. Hundreds have fallen ill, and 17 people have died in China.

But airports in China are extra-diligent about looking for signs of the virus.

"It seemed like they had a lot of like, cameras on people checking for like fevers and stuff," Pilger said.

Zhang described the response as "more scrutinized."

And while no travelers at O'Hare said they thought they came in contact with the virus, the rule of thumb remains to play at safe.

"I'm trying my best to not influence others just in case if I got something," said Yuan Xu, who was arriving from Shanghai and wearing a mask.

Late Wednesday afternoon, after CBS 2 talked to returning passengers, Customs and Border Patrol said they had started their initial screening process. CBP added that the screening at O'Hare should be fully operational by Friday.

The city released this statement:

"While we anticipate screening will activate later this week for those travelers originating from the Wuhan region, we continue to follow standard protocol by responding to all notifications of ill travelers and assessing passenger health needs--while giving special attention to flights with passengers who may have originated in China. This will include providing cards to passengers with information on the coronavirus and guidance in case they begin to exhibit symptoms, and displaying informational messaging on O'Hare video boards. While the risk from the virus to the American public is currently deemed to be low, these proactive measures are designed to contain any potential spread. Because CDC guidance currently applies primarily to those heading to or from the Wuhan region, travelers at O'Hare do not need to alter their plans and airport staff and vendors also do not need to change their behavior in any way."


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