S.E. Williams | Contributor
A telebriefing by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Wednesday raised alarms regarding the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)—it is not a matter of if, but when the virus will begin to spread in the U.S.
“The global novel coronavirus situation is rapidly evolving and expanding,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases told reporters during the call. “Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country.”
She continued, “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
The warning begged the question as to whether the nation is prepared to respond. According to a January 31, 2020 report in Foreign Policy magazine, “In 2018, the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure.”
The report noted further that in May 2018, Trump ordered the National Security Council’s entire global health security unit shut down and dissolved its entire team.
Also, in his 2021 Budget Proposal, the president is seeking to cut ten percent from Health and Human Services; 16 percent from CDC’s budget; and reduce funding for the National Institutes of Health by three billion dollars. Experts believe such draconian cuts impede the nation’s ability to respond nimbly to an international health threat like the Coronavirus. This week the president asked congress for additional funding to address the illness.
Although the largest outbreak of the virus is still in China, other countries are being hit hard. For example, on Wednesday Italy reported a 45 percent single-day increase in infections—Italian officials reported 10 deaths and 322 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Iran has reported more deaths from the illness in recent days.
President Trump announces the appointment of Vice President Mike Pence to co-ordinate the US government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Globally, the tally of Coronavirus patients is already over 80,000 and the death toll is rapidly approaching 3,000.
The World Health Organization has called it a global health emergency but has declined to use the label—pandemic—a term ascribed when a disease takes hold in multiple regions and spreads rampantly within communities; however because of the dramatic spread of the illness internationally there are mounting fears it could reach pandemic status.
Among the fifteen cases brought to the U.S. for treatment there has only been two incidents of person to person transmission between partners. Now, there is growing concern about the “community spread” as experienced in other countries like those noted above.
“Community spread is often a trigger to begin implementing new strategies tailored to local circumstances that blunt the impact of disease and can slow the spread of virus,” Messonnier explained.
“The fact this virus has caused illness—including illness resulting in death, and sustained person-to-person spread is concerning. These factors meet two of the criteria of the pandemic.”
The international death rate resulting from the illness is estimated to be between one and three percent; although there are reports of at least one community in China experienced a death rate of nearly six percent.
Messonnier went on to affirm, “The world moves closer towards meeting the third criteria—worldwide spread of the new virus.
Should the Coronavirus reach pandemic status it will be only the second time in recent history the world has faced such a threat—the Flu Pandemic of 1918 and the HIV Pandemic of 1985.
The Trump Administration has sent mixed messages regarding the current status of the illness here in the states. On one had Trump and his advisors have insisted the disease is under control in the U.S.; while on the other hand, CDC officials are warning Americans to prepare for possible severe disruptions of everyday life.
Despite the president’s claims the media is causing unnecessary panic over the illness, the U.S. has been implementing a containment strategy that requires detecting, tracking, and isolating all cases. “We’ve restricted travel into the United States while also issuing extensive travel advisories for countries currently experiencing community spread. Our travel notices are changing almost daily,” Messonnier confirmed.
“We’ve also enacted the first quarantine of this scale in the U.S. And are supporting the State Department and HHS [Health and Human Services] in repatriating citizens from high-risk areas. We are doing this with the goal of slowing the introduction of this new virus into the U.S. and buying us more time to prepare. To date, our containment strategies have been largely successful.”
She admitted however, as more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at America’s borders becomes harder and harder. “Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country,” she opined.
Currently, there is no vaccine to protect against this new virus and no medications approved to treat it, therefore, a proactive approach of containment and mitigation will delay the emergence of community spread in the United States while simultaneously reducing its ultimate impact.
The country will follow a protocol called the Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza United States 2017. The CDC said it will implement selected measures defined in these guidelines in a very aggressive, proactive way.
Such measure can take one to all three of the following forms:
Includes personal protective measures you can take every day and personal protective measures reserved for pandemics, including constant handwashing, etc.
Includes social distancing measures designed to keep people who are sick away from others—including closing schools and using internet-based tele-schooling to continue education. For adults, businesses can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options. On a larger scale, communities may need to modify, postpone, or cancel mass gatherings, looking at how to increase telehealth services and delaying elective surgery.
Includes surface cleaning measures—consistently clean frequently touched surfaces and objects at home, at school, at work, and at large gatherings.
According to the CDC, local communities will need to look at which NPIs to implement and when based on how transmission and disease is and what can be done locally.
Visit the CDC website for Coronavirus updates.