By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Chinese officials report a surge in deaths from a new form of coronavirus that has infected more than 1,000 people worldwide. 

Two cases have been confirmed in the United States—in Seattle and in Chicago—but Dr. Anthony Fauci of the Maryland-based National Institutes of Health says the danger here is low.

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“The American public needs to understand the difference: They shouldn’t be frightened or afraid, but don’t think that we’re not taking this very seriously,” he said.

Fauci urged Americans to wash their hands frequently, which they should be doing anyway to avoid the flu.

“Stay away from crowded places where there are a lot of people that are sneezing and coughing, and just do general healthy measures,” he said.

Right now, important work to find a vaccine is underway in Maryland. WJZ spoke to Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases branch at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring.

“I’ve been working on coronavirus for eight years now. Coronavirus is the family to which this new virus belongs,“ he said. “People should always be vigilant about new diseases and stay informed through trusted sources like the CDC.

This new strand of Coronavirus is similar to SARS—spread by close personal contact. A SARS vaccine was also developed in Maryland.

It may be two to three months before human trials can begin on this new strain of coronavirus.

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“It’s important to say it’s early in the outbreak. It is a good thing that we’ve been finding the cases so early and we identified the cause of this outbreak so early on,” Dr. Modjarrad said. “At the same time, because it’s so early, there’s a lot we don’t know about how the outbreak is unfolding, and it’s important not to speculate because speculation often leads to panic.”

So far, there are enhanced screening measures at five airports in the United States but not at BWI- Marshall, which has no direct flights to Asia.

At least 63 people have been tested in 22 states.

In Maryland, there are no confirmed cases, but the Howard County Chinese School reportedly canceled its upcoming Lunar New Year celebration out of concern.

The quarantine of entire cities in China is unprecedented and affects more than 30 million people.

Authorities believe the new coronavirus, which causes flu-like symptoms, moved into the human population from an infected animal at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Chinese health officials and the World Health Organization confirmed this week that the virus has been transmitted person-to-person, but it remains unclear how easy it is to contract it from another infected individual.

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The WHO on Thursday declined to declare the virus a global public health emergency, saying it was still too soon to take that measure.