NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The Coast Guard and the Centers for Disease Control are making sure people on ships entering local ports do not have the coronavirus and the La. Department of Health has alerted healthcare providers to be on the look-out for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to China.
Lt. John Edwards, Public Affairs Officer for the Coast, said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is committed to protecting the American people.
"The Coast Guard, both here locally, as well as nationally are supporting efforts to protect and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus here in the United States. Part of those mitigation efforts include assessing advance notice of arrival from vessels,” said Edwards. “We’re assessing to determine whether or not their last five port of calls have been in areas that have been impacted by the virus, as well as requiring vessel operators to report any ill crew members or passengers a minimum of 15 days prior to the arrival in any U.S. port.”
Edwards said information about illnesses is provided to a federal health agency.
"The vessel operators are required to report any illnesses to the CDC,” said Edwards.
The Port of New Orleans issued the following statement:
“We at Port NOLA are actively monitoring the situation and we are taking all precautionary measures necessary. At our cruise terminal like in the past with other viruses like SARS, Ebola, etc., there is a questionnaire administered by the embarkation agency that all passengers have to fill out before getting on the vessel. If warranted, there is second level screening to determine if a guest can sail or not. Our cargo vessels are following all Coast Guard protocol to ensure crew and products remain safe.”
Dr. Alexander Billioux is Asst. Secretary of the Office of Public Health within LDH.
"Even though we don't have any cases, we've been working to send out information to providers across the state, we've been working across state government to make sure that we are coordinated and that we have a system in place for if anybody does come to the state, or if any sort of person is even suspected of having coronavirus, so that we can then diagnose them, isolate them,” said Billioux.
He said doctors are urged to question patients with symptoms of respiratory tract infections about their recent travel.
"What we’re advising them is if anybody comes into their offices or calls them with concerns of common cold-like systems what’s called an upper-respiratory tract infection or deeper kind of pneumonia systems which is called a lower-respiratory tract infection and has traveled to China in the previous 14 days, they should call us,” Billioux said. “It does not yet give us concern that we’re going to see a widespread, rapid, you know, spread of infections in the U.S.”
Billioux said people in Louisiana should be sure to get their flu shots, especially before Fat Tuesday when thousands pack the streets of the city to watch parades because the flu also kills.
"For your viewers thinking about what's the most important thing they could do to protect their health right now is go get your flu shot, especially before Mardi Gras,” he said.
And the virus could impact local ports, in terms of trade.
"We not only get product from China but we also export a lot of product to China, so they’re an important trading partner. If ships are kept away from Louisiana it will impact our ports, but I don’t see why it should impact us any more than it affects any other port,” said Paul Aucoin, Executive Director of the Port of South Louisiana.
Meanwhile, according to the Port of New Orleans, it saw 396,876 short tons of general cargo imported from China during fiscal year 2019, and in fiscal year 2018, it said it saw 359,097 short tons of general cargo imported from China.