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West Coast Ports Are On Standby For Coronavirus

West Coast ports are on standby to enact infectious disease protocols for cargo and crew arriving in the United States, as the rapid advance of China's virulent coronavirus continued Monday.

Port of Oakland
Port of Oakland

West Coast ports handle more than a third of America's container imports, acting as a gateway for most of the Asian markets. They are a critical beginning point for the country's supply chain and its industrial and retail sectors, which are watching the virus’ spread around the world. Several Asian ports, including Laos, closed their borders entirely this week.

Port officials in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle told Bisnow Monday they are waiting for further directives from state and federal authorities before they begin screening cargo or crew arriving from destinations that have reported outbreaks. Port of Seattle spokesperson Kate Hudson said federal agencies are following the lead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which sets protocols for health authorities federally and at the state level. One of the five confirmed U.S. cases was diagnosed in Seattle.

A memo making its way through maritime circles and reviewed by Bisnow advises vessel operators that the U.S. Coast Guard would take the lead on some types of screening.

"Vessel representatives are required to report sick or deceased crew/passengers within the last 15 days to the CDC under 42 CFR 71.21," reads the advisory, issued by Coast Guard Capt. Kailie Benson, out of the Office of Emergency Management and Disaster Response. "The Coast Guard will continue to review all 'Notice of Arrivals' in accordance with current policies and will communicate any concerns stemming from sick or deceased crew or passengers to their Coast Guard chain of command and the CDC quarantine station who will coordinate with local health authorities."

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, the Coast Guard and the National Security Administration would work in tandem with health authorities and West Coast ports to spot goods or people that may need to be quarantined. In several places, ships and goods come through a central port first before heading to a regional one, including in Oakland, where U.S.-bound goods first enter the Port of Los Angeles before heading north.

"[The] Coast Guard confirms health of crew with vessel master before boarding ships, and the Coast Guard reports illnesses to [the] Centers for Disease Control," Port of Oakland spokesperson Mike Zampa said Monday. "No incidents have been reported."

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, and has spread virulently despite a lockdown by the Chinese government of that city and nearly a dozen of its neighbors.

As of Monday afternoon, at least 82 people were confirmed dead of the virus worldwide, and Chinese authorities said at least 2,800 are currently infected, with the virus increasing in strength, possibly allowing it to spread before a patient is symptomatic. The mayor of Wuhan said Monday that he estimates 5 million people have already left the city.

Several West Coast airports, including San Francisco and San Jose, have been screening travelers arriving from affected areas of China.

Also on Monday, the U.S. State Department issued travel advisories for Americans planning nonessential travel to China, ratcheting their threat level up to 3, and saying, "Travelers should be aware that the Chinese government could prevent them from entering or exiting parts of Hubei province," and noting that restrictions on travel might be put into effect with "little or no advance notice."

American authorities said Monday that they are investigating around 100 possible outbreaks in 26 states.

The CDC said Monday that the coronavirus does not appear to be spreading in the U.S. The agency maintains a list of its 20 quarantine stations here.

"We understand that many people in the Unites States are worried about this virus," Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), told ABC News. "At this time, in the U.S., the virus is not spreading in the community. For that reason we continue to believe that the immediate health risk from the new virus to the general public is low at this time.”

This is a developing story.