Coronavirus: Americans Warned To Start Planning For Spread In U.S. : Shots - Health News The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to prepare for the possibility of more aggressive measures to stop the new coronavirus in the United States.

Health Officials Warn Americans To Plan For The Spread Of Coronavirus In U.S.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Federal health officials issued a blunt warning today. They say it's only a matter of time, likely, before the coronavirus starts spreading in the U.S., so Americans need to start preparing for that possibility. And more aggressive measures might be necessary to fight the dangerous new germ in this country. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us now with the details.

Hey, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So what specifically prompted these tougher new warnings today?

STEIN: You know, federal health officials have been saying for a while that the virus could start spreading in this country, but those concerns have intensified as the outbreak started occurring outside of China in places like Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan. Here's Nancy Messonnier from the CDC.

NANCY MESSONNIER: 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.

CHANG: OK, so what are these more aggressive measures that officials say might become necessary?

STEIN: Yeah. You know, the U.S. has already taken some pretty aggressive measures. They've banned pretty much anyone who isn't a U.S. citizen from entering the country from China, imposed the first federal quarantine in a half-century on hundreds of people who might have been exposed to the virus. But they're saying that's probably just bought the U.S. time, and more aggressive steps that affect people's everyday lives will probably become needed at some point. Here's Dr. Messonnier from the CDC again.

MESSONNIER: We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad. I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning, and I told my children that while I didn't think that they were at risk right now, we as a family need to be preparing for a significant disruption of our lives.

CHANG: Significant disruption - what kinds of disruptions is she talking about exactly?

STEIN: Yeah. What she's talking about is things like, you know, schools closings and closings and workers being asked to stay home or even maybe telework from home if they can and maybe staying away from big public events, maybe even large gatherings being canceled altogether. Here's Dr. Messonnier one more time.

MESSONNIER: I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things that people need to start thinking about now.

STEIN: And what she means by that is, you know, they should think about, you know - what would you do if - you know, for child care if the schools and day care centers started to close? And could you work from home if you had to? And would there be any way to get care from your doctor - for example, through something like telemedicine - if that became necessary? You know, and public health officials say they know this sort of thing could be a real hardship for people - people missing paychecks, school, that sort of thing.

CHANG: Wow. I'm trying to think. Has this sort of thing on this level ever happened in the U.S. ever before?

STEIN: Well, you know, we know that we've seen other countries do this sort of thing for the coronavirus. You know, China's had this massive lockdown, affecting millions of people. And countries like Italy and South Korea are now starting to take pretty aggressive steps. And, you know - but it's been a long time since we've seen anything like this happen in this country. Some schools closed at the beginning of the so-called H1N1 flu pandemic about 10 years ago.

CHANG: Right.

STEIN: But you have to go back a lot further in history for when this sort of thing happened on a large scale in this country, maybe as far back as the 1918 Spanish flu. You know, during that, schools did close. Churches and theaters and dance halls closed. Weddings and funerals were banned in some places. Some factories, they did things like staggering shifts. And similar steps were also taken at times to fight polio - you know, things like closing movie theaters, pools and bowling alleys.

CHANG: So I'm just trying to keep all of this in context. I mean, how worried should people be right now?

STEIN: Yeah. So public health officials stress that the coronavirus is not spreading in this country right now, so it's not a big risk at the moment by any means. In fact, you know, the regular old flu still poses much more of a risk by far. So people should be doing things that they would do to protect themselves from that - you know, common sense things like wash your hands a lot and, you know, stay home if you're sick and cover your mouth when you cough. That would also help if the coronavirus does start to spread.

And, you know, the Trump administration is clearly trying to walk a fine line here. You know, the stock market has been falling because of concerns about coronavirus. And during a news conference in India this morning, the president said the situation is under control. And then late this afternoon, other health officials had another briefing that had a much more measured tone, and they were saying they just wanted people to know what kinds of things might happen, not necessarily what would happen.

CHANG: That's NPR's Rob Stein.

Thanks, Rob.

STEIN: Oh, sure. You bet.

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