CDC Officials Expect Coronavirus to Spread to the U.S.

CDC Officials Expect Coronavirus to Spread to the U.S.

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The spread of the new coronavirus has become increasingly likely in the United States, public health officials suggested, as the sickness that started in China has infected people in 39 countries including Italy and South Korea where an American service member has contracted the virus.

During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Nancy Messonnier, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said it was “not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.”

Messonnier’s warning included a suggestion that people start asking their schools about plans for dismissal and for conducting classes online if the coronavirus, now called Covid-19, affects their communities.

Stocks fell sharply lower on Monday and Tuesday amid concerns about the effect on the global economy.

As of earlier this week, over 80,000 people had tested positive for Covid-19, which claimed the lives of over 2,700 people. In the United States, the number of confirmed cases, including those from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, had reached 57. None of those cases is in New York, where 26 tests have come back negative and one is still pending, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Bettina Fries, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said the infections in Italy and South Korea signaled a new phase in the epidemic.

“We are now having these new cases where we can’t even link them” to exposure to people who have traveled to China, Fries said. “The genie is out of the bottle. Once that happens, it’ll be that much harder” to contain the virus.

Fries described the virus, which health officials believe is transmitted through droplets from people carrying the infection, as “behaving much more like the flu,” which is why the CDC is preparing for cases in the United States.

With other coronaviruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome, the majority of patients who transmitted these diseases had symptoms like high fevers. That may not be the case with Covid-19, as patients that are “asymptomatic could be shedding the virus,” making it more difficult to contain, Fries said.

Medical professionals don’t have any medication or vaccine, while the world population, which hasn’t been exposed to this new virus, also hasn’t developed any kind of resistance.

If pockets of the outbreak appear in the United States, it is “conceivable that schools could shut down and that there could be rules where people self quarantine” for the required 14 days, Fries said.

Fries added that it’s important to protect health care providers who are on the front lines in this battle. Stony Brook is continuing to make contingency plans in the event of confirmed cases of this coronavirus, which includes making space available if necessary. In the event of an outbreak, the hospital would change its policy of having trainees, residents and medical students go in and out of rooms with doctors on rounds, she said.

Fries added that the warmer weather may not cause a reduction in the incidence of the virus. “Every virus is different,” Fries said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced several measures to prepare New York for the potential spread of the new coronavirus, called Covid-19, to the Empire State. Cuomo announced a $40 million appropriation for the New York State Department of Health to hire additional staff, procure equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the spread of Covid-19. The governor is also proposing legislation to grant authority to the Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to make sure local health departments and private and public hospitals take necessary actions in response to the virus. The department will bring together local health departments and hospitals statewide to review protocols, practices and procedures to make sure they are prepared to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Cuomo is also asking the federal government to authorize the Wadsworth Center and NYC Public Health Laboratory to test for the virus, which would speed up the test results. New York State has developed and validated a test using the protocol of the Centers for Disease Control. Once Wadsworth receives Food and Drug Administration approval, it can test people under investigation in New York and other northeastern states.
The Department of Health will coordinate with the Mass Transit Authority, Port Authority and airport operators and the workforces for these public transit systems to ensure workers are trained and can access supplies such as cleaning and protective equipment, that they need to operate mass transit and airports. New York is working with all state agencies to prepare for the potential pandemic.
Updated Feb. 28 to include information about Cuomo’s measures.