ATLANTA, Ga. – The Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday that it appears inevitable that COVID-19 will spread in United States communities. Officials said it’s no longer a matter of if, but when.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a conference call that the spread of the new coronavirus in countries other than China has officials concerned about outbreaks in the U.S.
"Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in this country," said Messonier. "It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness."
The CDC says the agency is preparing to address the potential spread of the virus in the U.S. and it's encouraging Americans to begin planning as well.
"We will maintain, for as long as practical, a dual approach where we continue measures to contain this disease, but also employ strategies to minimize the impact on our communities," said Messonier.
Messonier said that officials don't know whether the spread of the disease in the U.S. would be mild or severe, but Americans should be ready for "significant disruptions" to their daily lives.
“We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” Messonnier said.
If the virus begins to spread amongst Americans, the CDC says it will becomes increasingly important to implement basic precautions to prevent more infections. That includes staying home when ill and practicing respiratory and hand hygiene.
Additionally, the CDC says community level intervention might include school dismissals and social distancing in other settings, like postponing or canceling large gatherings. Officials said it may become necessary for students and the workforce to meet over the internet, instead of in person.
“For adults, businesses can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options,” said Messonier.
The virus is believed to have originated from Wuhan, China, where early patients had some link to a large seafood and live animal markets.
The CDC says more than 2,400 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide, with a majority of the deaths in mainland China. However, other countries are now battling sizable outbreaks as well.
Europe’s biggest outbreak is in Italy, where more than 280 people have reportedly been infected. Iran has reported at least 95 cases. And, South Korea has more than 970 cases.
As of Tuesday, the CDC had confirmed 14 cases in the U.S., 12 being travel-related and two from person-to-person spread. A total of 43 cases have been confirmed in the group of people repatriated to the U.S. from either Wuhan or the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan, the CDC says. That's a total of 57 cases.
At this time, there’s no vaccine or medicine to help stop the spread of the virus.
“In the absence of a vaccine or therapy, community mitigation measures are the primary method to respond to widespread transmission and supportive care is the current medical treatment,” wrote the CDC.
Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of influenza (fever, cough, and shortness of breath) and the current outbreak is occurring during a time of year when respiratory illness are highly prevalent. The CDC is hoping COVID-19 is a seasonal disease like the flu, but officials are preparing in case it’s not.
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