“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, head of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
“We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” she added.
Disruption to everyday life might be severe.
Americans need to be prepared for schools and workplaces closing, and even elective medical procedures getting delayed, as the US healthcare system ramps up efforts to contain and control the spread of the virus in the coming weeks.
The CDC is operating “as if we are going to see community spread in the near term,” Messonnier said. So far, the CDC has tested a total of 426 people and found 14 cases of COVID-19, twelve of which were travelers returning from China, and two were direct transmissions.
The US government is implementing an “aggressive containment strategy” and instituting extensive travel advisories, but this will get more difficult as the virus spreads in countries beyond China.
Messonnier explained that COVID-19 has fulfilled two out of three criteria to become considered a pandemic — causing illness that has resulted in death and sustained direct transmission — and is “moving closer” to the third, worldwide spread.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been reluctant to label the coronavirus a pandemic, calling it a “public health emergency of international concern” instead.
Since it first appeared in Wuhan at the end of November, the coronavirus has spread to around 30 countries, infecting more than 80,000 people and killing over 2,600 — the majority of them in China.