CORONAVIRUS

Health Officials: Coronavirus spread 'inevitable' in U.S.

FILE - This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019
FILE - This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The coronavirus outbreak has exposed a seeming disconnect between the financial markets and science. Health experts are uncertain how far the virus out of China will spread and how bad the crisis will get, yet stock markets are rallying as if they're not expecting more than a modest hit to the global economy. (CDC via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — Health officials urged the public Tuesday to prepare for the “inevitable” spread of the coronavirus within the United States, escalating warnings about a growing threat from the virus to Americans’ everyday lives.

The urgent new tone from leaders of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health came in response to a rapid surge in cases in new locations outside mainland China in the past several days, including new cases without a known source of exposure in Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

It came as stock markets dived for the second straight day on fears of the virus spreading.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said officials cautioned during a closed-door briefing with senators that there was a “very strong chance of an extremely serious outbreak of the coronavirus here in the United States.”

Separately, on a conference call with reporters, public health officials repeated dire warnings.

“Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in the United States. It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Messonnier said evidence of so-called “community spread” far beyond mainland China is triggering new strategies to blunt the impact of illness and slow the spread of the respiratory virus.

There is growing evidence that efforts to contain the spread of the virus outside of China have failed. There now are almost 1,000 cases in South Korea, at least 15 people have died in Iran, and cases were reported for the first time in Switzerland and Austria and at a luxury resort in Spain.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Limiting The Effects

The CDC said the agency would be focusing on containing the spread of the virus in the United States, as well as warning people to prepare. Health officials are urging businesses, health care facilities and even schools to plan now for ways to limit the effects of the illness when it spreads in the community.

They urged:

• Businesses need to consider replacing in-person meetings with telework.

• Schools should consider ways to limit face-to-face contact, such as dividing students into smaller groups, school closures and internet-based learning.

• Local officials should think about modifying, postponing or canceling large gatherings.

• Hospitals should plan ways to triage patients who do not need urgent care and recommend patients delay elective surgery.

School closures may be among the most effective ways to limit person-to-person spread, which is the main way coronavirus is transmitted.

But it also is the one likely to cause the most unwanted consequences and disruptions from missed work and loss of income, said Messonnier, of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

“Disruptions to everyday life may be severe, but people might want to start thinking about that now,” she said.

She said parents may want to call their local school offices to see what kinds of plans they have in place and consider what they would do if they had no child care. These kinds of questions will help everyone be better prepared, she said.

On Tuesday, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow tried to assuage concerns over the coronavirus and its impact on the U.S. economy.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“We have contained this. I won’t say (it’s) airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow told CNBC’s Kelly Evans on “The Exchange.” He added that, while the outbreak is a “human tragedy,” it will likely not be an “economic tragedy.”

Some senators who attended Tuesday’s briefing downplayed any alarmist tone from health officials. However, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said senators were told the number of cases in the United States would inevitably grow.

There are now 57 people with the virus in the United States, almost all but 14 of them evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The Trump administration on Monday requested $1.8 billion in emergency spending to fight the virus. The request includes $1.25 billion in new money and transfers other funds from ebola research.

The total amount the administration proposes to spend to combat the virus is at least $2.5 billion.

During a Senate Appropriations hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was questioned about administration efforts to test people for the coronavirus, asking whether a faulty CDC test has limited the ability to test potential carriers.

Azar denied that the CDC test did not work, but only a handful of state laboratories currently can run tests outside of the CDC in Atlanta because the kits sent out nationwide a week and a half ago included a faulty component. Azar told senators the administration hoped to expand the U.S. surveillance system for coronavirus to be comparable to flu surveillance.

While top health officials have heralded the speed with which they expect to get a coronavirus vaccine into early clinical safety tests — they have said that could happen within the next two months — it likely will be at least a year or year and a half before the vaccine is widely available.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

We have a list of active story ideas in which we are seeking people connected to those topics to tell us how COVID-19 has impacted their life.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.