The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday warned that it expects the novel coronavirus to begin spreading in the U.S. at the community level, and that “disruption to everyday life may be severe.”
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the agency’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a press briefing on Tuesday that the time for Americans to begin preparing for a potential outbreak of the virus is now, although officials believe the immediate threat to the public remains low.
“As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder,” Messonnier said. “Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
Citing the recent uptick in cases in countries with confirmed illnesses, Messonnier said health officials recognize that once the virus hits, it moves “quite rapidly," adding that the outbreak is inching closer toward pandemic status. She explained several measures the U.S. is prepared to take should the outbreak become severe, including closing schools and hosting meetings remotely.
"I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things people need to start thinking about now," Messonnier said.
Messonnier said that she herself spoke to her family over breakfast on Tuesday and that while she feels the risk of coronavirus at this time is low, she told them they needed to be preparing for "significant disruption" to their lives.
The U.S. currently has 14 confirmed cases of the virus in people who have traveled to China or been in close contact with someone who has. An additional 39 residents were infected with the virus while onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, but last week the health agency said those cases would be counted separately from the national tally.