Two passengers at LAX had coronavirus, internal HHS document shows

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WASHINGTON — Two foreign passengers at Los Angeles International Airport tested positive for coronavirus, according to an internal Department of Health and Human Services document obtained by Yahoo News.

One of the passengers was from Hubei province, China, where the coronavirus pandemic originated. He stopped at Los Angeles International Airport, known as LAX, on his way to Mexico.

The other passenger had traveled from Iran to Los Angeles, which has a large population of Iranian émigrés.

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2
This scanning electron microscope image shows the virus that causes COVID-19. (Courtesy NIAID-RML)

These infections have not been previously reported. Both are described in an internal document that appears to be the basis of the daily updates on the coronavirus that are posted on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The document includes statistics about infections in each of the 50 states, as well as additional details about the spread of the coronavirus within the United States and around the world.

The document, an update for March 11, shows that 924 Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus (the number is somewhat higher if cruise ship passengers are included). It also lists the number of air travel passengers who have been screened (54,902) and country breakdowns for coronavirus infections. Broadly, those statistics all accord with what has been reported elsewhere, including the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus database.

But the information about the LAX travelers appears to be wholly new.

Covidhhs Redacted by Sharon Weinberger on Scribd

The document contains little information about the Chinese traveler, describing that individual only as a “Hubei traveler.” It is not clear when he arrived in Los Angeles, although a statement from a spokesman for the CDC indicated it was in January.

There is slightly more information about the traveler from Iran: “Iranian traveler with cough and recent hospitalization who was screened at LAX on 08 Mar is presumptive positive for COVID-19 disease,” the document says. The CDC puts the date at “late February.”

The document also says that an “ill Korean traveler” at LAX was tested but was found not to have been infected with the coronavirus.

Richard Quartarone, a CDC press officer, provided this statement to Yahoo News:

“The passenger from China was identified in January. The passenger from Iran was identified in late February. CDC and the state and local health departments conducted investigations of the source of each of these passengers’ exposure. Health officials have also identified and notified those who may have been at risk of contracting the illness after coming into contact with the two travelers.”

The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for comment.

Two screeners at LAX have already tested positive for the coronavirus. That two infected travelers passed through the airport raises the possibility that LAX is a point of transmission for the disease, which has killed about 4,600 people around the world.

LAX is the fourth-busiest airport in the world, according to Airports Council International, a trade group. In January 2020, 6,678,451 passengers passed through the airport, according to the airport’s own statistics.

Media relations officials at LAX referred a query about the two infected passengers to Los Angeles County, but officials at the county health department did not respond to a request for comment.

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