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Coronavirus travel ban, strict infection control will keep virus at bay in US, former NY official says

The former lieutenant governor of New York has hit back at China for keeping the true depths of the coronavirus spread under wraps for so long, which possibly allowed for thousands to travel while infectious. Dr. Betsy McCaughey, current chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, told Fox News that even this week, the country was making a mistake in being reluctant to accept foreign help.

“The first thing China did wrong was to keep it a secret for so long,” McCaughey said. “It meant that hundreds of thousands of people perhaps traveled around the world from China who could be carrying this virus and nobody knew about it.”

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The virus has since spread to more than 60,000 people and killed more than 1,000. The majority of cases and fatalities have occurred mainly in China. As a result, similar to other foreign nations, the Trump administration has issued travel restrictions for foreigners coming to the U.S. and for Americans returning from regions in China that are being pummeled by the virus. Some, however, have criticized the administration’s move and warned that it could further alienate Asian cultures and help spread unnecessary fear.

“This is a virus that happened to pop up in China,” Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., recently told Politico. “But the virus doesn’t discriminate between Asian versus non-Asian. In our response, we can’t create prejudices and harbor anxieties toward one population.”

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But McCaughey applauded the restrictions and strict quarantines and said it was a “very smart step” to prevent the coronavirus from becoming widespread in the U.S., which has already seen 15 confirmed cases of the illness. Most of the cases have involved patients who recently traveled to China.

“They’ve done two things: They’ve said, ‘If you’re an American and you’re returning from China, you must be quarantined or self-quarantined — or if you’ve been in that particular province where coronavirus is focused, you must be in a quarantine facility,’” McCaughey said. “And secondly, the Trump administration has barred foreign travelers who have been in China recently from coming to the U.S., and that is very important because our hospitals are not ready to prevent the spread of coronavirus once it becomes endemic here.”

About 600 Americans who were evacuated from the virus epicenter are in quarantine at military bases in California, Nebraska and Texas. McCaughey said it’s much easier to fight the outbreak in China with foreign aid and medical supplies than it would be if it were to become widespread in the U.S.

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“Let me just point out that in our country, 75,000 people a year die from infections they contract in the hospital,” she said. “Almost all of them are bacterial infections, which are easier to control than a viral infection like coronavirus. If hospitals can’t protect you from MRSA and C. diff and VRC and all these commonplace infections, how are they ever going to protect you from coronavirus? They’re not.”

McCaughey said the U.S. should focus on tightening infection control in hospitals, and that all staff should be armed with masks, gowns, gloves and other medical protection should the coronavirus become widespread.

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“The safety of Americans, in this case, will depend on what happens when a traveler unknowingly carrying this disease goes to an emergency room for help,” she said. “If the hospital has rigorous infection control in place, the disease will not spread. But too many of our hospitals are very lax about infection control. And what’s why a coronavirus could quickly become a devastating hospital-borne infection.”

Fox News’ Kevin Tracy contributed to this report. 

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