Public health officials offer scant details on US coronavirus patients

Disclosure this week of multiple cases in the United States of a new viral infection emerging from China — including the first confirmed cases of the virus passing from person to person in this country — is fueling public concerns about how easily the deadly virus can spread.

It is also raising pointed questions about why authorities aren’t disclosing more information about the risk of exposure.

The first person-to-person case, announced Thursday, involves a man in his 60s with underlying health issues who is married to a Chicago-area woman who contracted the virus while traveling in Wuhan, China, and was diagnosed upon her return. During a news briefing, state and federal health officials said they believe the threat from the virus remains low within the United States and remained cautious about sharing details about patients and their movements.

Unlike the more detailed accounting of patients’ movements released during measles outbreaks, public health departments are not sharing precise timelines of people’s activities and locations in the days before they were diagnosed with the new coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that while there’s a risk for everyone who comes in contact with a person with the virus, it appears minimal for those with only casual contact, such as being in the same grocery store or movie theater.

On Thursday, health officials declined to name the hospital where the infected couple are being treated, saying the patients are isolated and the risk to others in the hospital remains low. Health care workers who are caring for them and at a higher risk of contracting the virus are being monitored. The CDC is reminding the public to take the usual precautions during flu season: Wash hands regularly; cover your mouth when you cough; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; and avoid contact with people who are sick.