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2 people in N.H. being tested for coronavirus

Public officials in Boston say city is ready, but no cases here

Two people in New Hampshire who recently traveled to Wuhan City, China, are being tested for possible coronavirus, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services reported Monday.

Meanwhile in Boston, health officials said Monday that there have been no confirmed cases in the city, but they asserted that Boston is ready should the virus arrive here.

Both New Hampshire patients had mild respiratory symptoms, sought medical care, and are recovering, the department’s statement said. The two remain isolated until test results are available on samples sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The risk to our communities in New Hampshire is low, but we want to identify people who may be infected with this new coronavirus in order to prevent spread,” New Hampshire’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Benjamin Chan, said in a statement.

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The two people in New Hampshire are among more than 70 people in the United States awaiting test results for the new coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV. Five cases in four states have been confirmed.

In a Monday Facebook post, Littleton Regional Healthcare in New Hampshire said that a student from The White Mountain School, a Bethlehem boarding school, went to the hospital’s emergency department last Thursday with mild, flu-like symptoms. The student, according to that group, had traveled to Hunan, China, in December, returning to the United States on Jan. 6.

The student has been placed in a “negative pressure intensive care room for treatment to prevent cross-contamination to other areas of the hospital," the post said. The hospital was informed Monday that the CDC would not be providing a diagnosis for at least another one or two days.

At a Boston City Hall press conference on Monday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and city health officials sought to reassure the public. “We are making sure to take every single precaution to keep our city safe and healthy," Walsh said. "Our public health agencies are trained to respond to infectious diseases. We are constantly assessing potential threats.”

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The 2019-nCoV virus has sickened 3,000 people and claimed more than 80 lives in China. Its symptoms resemble those of the flu, particularly fever and cough.

But while there are many people traveling from China to Boston, and there are many people with flu-like symptoms here, no one has met the CDC’s criteria to trigger concern about possible 2019-nCoV, said Dr. Jennifer Lo, medical director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

Those criteria are: fever and cough or difficulty breathing in a person who, in the last 14 days, has been to Wuhan City, China, or has had close contact with a person sick with suspected or confirmed 2019-nCoV.

There are daily flights between Logan Airport and Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, according the Massachusetts Port Authority. Those three cities are hundreds of miles away from Wuhan, where the virus originated. Logan is not among the five US airports screening for coronavirus.

“The risk to the general public is low,” Lo said. If a case appeared, she said, “The commission is prepared to support any evaluation or treatment of cases.”

In response to the threat of the new virus, the Boston Public Health Commission has activated its incident command system, a standardized system for command and communication used to coordinate emergency responses among agencies. The system is typically engaged for big public events like First Night and the Boston Marathon. The last time it was activated in response to an illness was in the winter of 2018-2019 amid a national hepatitis A outbreak among homeless people.

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Emergency medical officials have been instructed to ask about a patient’s travel history when the person has respiratory symptoms, said James Houley, chief of Boston Emergency Medical Services. If the patient has been to the affected area of China, the hospital will be notified and the person put in isolation.

Lo said the commission had been receiving many phone calls. She urged people who are feeling unwell to call their doctors. Those with general questions about coronavirus may call 617-534-5611.

Danny McDonald of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.