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There are now five confirmed US coronavirus cases. Experts say it’s no cause for alarm.

The new US cases come as the number of confirmed cases reaches 2,116 globally.

Pedestrians are seen wearing surgical masks in London’s Chinatown on January 25, 2020.
Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images

A fifth US coronavirus case has been confirmed in Maricopa County, Arizona, according to the Arizona Department of Public Health.

The patient, an Arizona State University student who doesn’t live on campus, recently traveled from Wuhan, China — the center of the outbreak, health officials said Sunday. Two other cases of coronavirus were confirmed Sunday in California: one person in Orange County and another in Los Angeles County. Both patients also recently returned from Wuhan.

Although Chinese authorities have said they have observed evidence of person-to-person transmission of the virus, officials in Orange and LA counties said there’s little risk of the virus spreading throughout the state, or the US, given the precautions being taken by health officials.

These latest patients join two others previously diagnosed in the US: a man in his 30s in Everett, Washington, and a woman in her 60s in Chicago, Illinois. All four US patients traveled from Wuhan prior to being diagnosed and are being treated in isolation. State officials in Washington, Illinois, California, and Arizona are monitoring people who have been in close contact with the patients for any signs of symptoms.

Globally, there are more than 2,100 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers. Although the vast majority of those are in mainland China, a handful of cases have also been confirmed in 12 other countries including: South Korea, Thailand, France, Australia, and Japan. As of Sunday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 56, with all of those deaths occurring in mainland China.

In response, countries are taking preemptive measures to prevent a major outbreak. China has imposed a major — and possibly ineffective — travel ban. Hong Kong is closing schools for the next three weeks. In the US, the CDC said it will take “aggressive public health measures” to stop the disease from spreading, such as conducting entry screenings at major airports.

Despite stating the importance of such precautions, the CDC has also been clear Americans need not worry about falling victim to the virus: Though the agency sees the coronavirus as a major public health threat, the immediate health risk is considered low as of now.

Experts say cases outside of China are a cause for caution — not for alarm

The discovery of more coronavirus cases in the US — and the other cases outside of mainland China — are cause for concern, but not cause for alarm, according to public health officials.

At the moment, more than 97 percent of confirmed cases are in mainland China. That has caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the mysterious virus is not a global health emergency, as Vox’s Julia Belluz has reported.

“Make no mistake, this is an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, has said.

Similarly, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said those outside of China have little to worry about at the moment, but have also stressed that governments are correct in erring on the side of caution given scientists are still learning about the virus and its transmission rate, as Vox’s Julia Belluz has reported:

Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Friday that although the outbreak is a “very serious public health threat, the immediate risk to the US public is low at this time.”

Yet Tom Frieden, the former director of the CDC, told Vox he’s concerned by how infectious the virus is. “If the sustained human transmission and a high rate of severe illness are confirmed, then it clearly is an event of international concern.”

As scientists further investigate the virus, experts say the best thing to do is keep things in perspective, as Belluz has explained:

To put the cases and deaths so far into perspective, remember that seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 650,000 people each year. “Right now, you’re probably more likely to be catching flu than you are to be getting coronavirus,” said Devi Sridhar, chair in global public health at the University of Edinburgh.

That does not mean the virus ought to be dismissed — thousands are affected, and more than 50 people have lost their lives. And governments are taking action to stem it, from China’s travel ban, to Hong Kong declaring a state of emergency, to the US working to bring its citizens currently in China home.

But for those outside of China, WHO said the most effective and helpful things to be done are the sorts of measures we should all take anyway: ensure we wash our hands and cover our mouths and noses when coughing and sneezing.

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