American health authorities said on Tuesday they ultimately expect the novel coronavirus to spread in the United States and are urging local governments, businesses, and schools to develop plans like cancelling mass gatherings or switching to teleworking.
Officials are also worried the outbreak poses a threat to the the security of the US drug supply chain because a high proportion of ingredients used to make medicine is made in China, where the virus was first identified.
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country,” Nancy Messonnier, a senior official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said during a briefing.
“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 comments mark a significant escalation in the level of threat being conveyed to the US public and come amid fears of a pandemic, as the disease has taken root in several countries outside China, including Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
Covid-19 has killed more than 2,600 people and infected almost 80,000 others, mainly in China.
There are so far 57 recorded cases in the United States.
In the absence of a vaccine or any form of treatment for Covid-19, authorities are relying on non-pharmaceutical interventions.
“For schools, options include dividing students into smaller groups, or in a severe pandemic closing schools and using internet-based teleschooling.”
“For adults, businesses can replace in-person meetings with video and telephone conferences and increase teleworking options,” she continued, adding that on a larger scale, cities may need to cancel mass gatherings.
In the case of hospitals, it may mean delaying elective procedures and increasing telephone consultations.
“You should ask your children’s school about their plans for school dismissal or school closures. Ask about teleschooling. I contacted my local school superintendent this morning with exactly those questions.”