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North Carolina’s busiest airports unaffected by coronavirus – for now

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The coronavirus that has rapidly spread across the globe has started to spread in the United States. There were  102 confirmed cases as of Monday evening, with diagnosed patients in California, Texas, Rhode Island, Washington and New York.

The Centers for Disease Control has warned that the virus could cause significant disruption for day-to-day life and that Americans should be preparing for when an outbreak occurs. North Carolina hasn’t had a confirmed coronavirus case. The federal response has faced criticism for too-narrow testing criteria and initially botched test kits.

Charlotte Douglas International and Raleigh-Durham International are coordinating with federal officials, but the state’s busiest airports are at the discretion of the CDC when it comes to implementing new procedures.

“Airports including RDU follow the directive of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which is the agency that decides which airports should conduct health screenings and what the protocol will be,” says Stephanie Hawco, media relations director for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. “U.S. Customs and Border Patrol actually conducts the screenings in airports at CDC’s direction. RDU has not been directed to conduct those screenings.” Last year RDU saw a record 14.2 million passengers fly through the airport.

President Trump expanded travel restrictions from Iran and heightened travel advisories for regions in South Korea and Italy, with new screen procedures for travelers from “high-risk countries,” and North Carolina’s airports aren’t among the approved entry points.

Charlotte Douglas, which is the nation’s 10th busiest airport with more than 46.4 million passengers in 2018, is on standby to implement new protocols, but has not been made of any additional changes, a spokesperson says.

When it comes to actually limiting the number of flights, that’s up to the airlines, Hawco says. Delta and American Airlines are the two largest carriers at RDU, she says, and American is responsible for more than 700 of Charlotte Douglas’ 800 daily flights.

American Airlines has suspended flights to China, Hong Kong and Milan, Italy at some hubs, airline spokeswoman Crystal Byrd says.

American is providing hand sanitizer for crew members and sanitizing wipes for customers on all international flights across the Pacific, Byrd says.  “Our aircraft, including lavatories, are cleaned on a regular basis, and the depth of the cleaning varies depending on turn times and type of flying.”

Hawco says health experts advise passengers and airport staff to practice good hygiene to prevent spreading the virus. This includes hand washing for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering coughs and sneezes and disinfecting surfaces frequently.

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