Brace for chaos: in a few weeks, the next person to sneeze may be arrested quietly pulled aside by the authorities and tested for coronavirus.
People in the US experiencing flu-like symptoms will be screened for the latest coronavirus that originated from China, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced during a briefing on Friday, adding that it will roll out 5 labs, in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle, to screen patients through the ominously sounding "national flu surveillance program"; if that wasn't bad enough, they also said the program is likely to expand as more confirmed cases are expected in the coming days and weeks.
Justifying the move, CDC officials said that there could be undetected cases of the mysterious illness in communities across the US, as the country experiences a dramatic spike in flu as the season approaches its halfway point.
The agency plans to expand to more cities until it has achieved "national surveillance".
"They are currently testing for influenza. The idea is they will test the influenza negative specimens," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. There are now 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US and more than 600 people remain in quarantine.
Which, of course is a prudent move, if only it weren't for the fact that tens of millions of Americans are about to get sick as we enter the peak of flu season, and every sneeze or cough will lead to panicked phone calls to the local ER (or police), and potentially in self-imposed quarantine as more and more Americans await an "all clear" signal before life returns back to normal. Alas, with the coronavirus pandemic running rampang in China, this may not happen for many month.
Global cases of the virus have topped 64,000, including hundreds of health workers in China as it battles to contain the virus following its outbreak in Wuhan. In the US, there have been 15th confirmed coronavirus infections while more than 1,300 people have died in China (it would have been even more had China not somehow "double-counted" the dead).
The latest case in the US involves a patient who was among a group of people under a federal quarantine order in Texas following a US government-chartered flight that evacuated US citizens from China earlier this month.
Meanwhile, health officials report 26 million flu infections in the US so far this season, including 14,000 deaths.