As the novel coronavirus called COVID-19 spread to more than 30 countries last week and the death toll exceeded 2,700 around the world, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Feb. 25 urged Americans to prepare for a possible pandemic that could cause “severe” disruption at schools, businesses and to life in general.
At that time, the CDC did not speculate when outbreaks might begin in the United States, or how widespread or serious they might become. Nobody is suggesting anyone should panic. But officials stressed outbreaks are almost surely just a matter of when, not if.
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country,”Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Feb. 25.
Local governments, schools and businesses should plan now for measures they would enact in a pandemic, such as closures and event cancellations to reduce face-to-face contact, Messonnier said. People should check with schools and employers now to learn of plans for possible closures, meeting cancellations and other disruptions, she said.
“You should think about what you would do for childcare or daycare should schools close,” she said. “Is teleworking an option for you? Does your health-care provider offer a telemedicine option?”
(On Saturday, Feb. 29, the CDC reported three hospitalized patients in Washington State thought to have the disease, including one who died, in what the agency says could be the first cases of person-to-person spread in a community in the United States.)
Run on Face Masks
By noon Feb. 26, commercially available face masks had been cleared off local store shelves. At Ace Hardware in Anthem, an employee said he stocked them the day before and led a customer to… empty shelves. None were to be found at Home Depot in Tramonto or at either CVS in Anthem.
“One guy came in and grabbed them all,” said an employee at Walmart, where masks had disappeared from three departments: pharmacy, paint and automotive.
At each store, employees said they’d had runs on the masks due to concerns over coronavirus.
The CDC does not recommend face masks for the general public at this point, just as it doesn’t recommend them as protection against the flu. Where coronavirus outbreaks occur, the agency says it might recommend infected individuals wear face masks. Here’s what U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said:
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
Deer Valley Unified School District nurses and staff are monitoring student health daily, said district spokesperson Monica Allread.
“If the illness spreads to an unmanageable level, DVUSD would follow all state and local direction,” Allread told In&Out. “We would close schools if that is what is needed to keep our students and staff safe.”
Allread said teleschooling “could be explored if schools were closed for an extended period of time.”
What to Expect
Because this coronavirus is new, having jumped from animals to humans in December, scientists don’t yet fully understand how easily it spreads or how deadly it is. But for reference, the flu infects between 9 million and 45 million Americans annually, killing 12,000 to 61,000 every year.
Coronavirus symptoms known to date: fever, cough and shortness of breath. Anyone who suspects they have it should call a doctor, the CDC asks.
The coronavirus can be transmitted through the air, from a cough or sneeze. Researchers say it likely survives on hard surfaces, like countertops, for a few hours. It can also survive in human feces and may be transmitted via unsanitary restroom conditions, the latest research shows.
“Preliminary data suggest that older adults and persons with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems might be at greater risk for severe illness from this virus,” the CDC states. Some people experience only mild symptoms.
There were 22 confirmed cases detected in the United States as of Feb. 29, including one in Arizona that was reported in January. Also, at least 40 Americans contracted the disease aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Globally, there are more than 85,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, including 86 outside China.
A study of 44,672 cases in China found a fatality rate of 2.3 percent in Hubei Province, the epicenter of coronavirus, but 0.4 percent outside that region. Scientists do not yet know what the actual fatality rate is, but some speculate it will be somewhere around 1 or 2 percent. The global fatality rate for flu is about 0.1 percent, or 1-in-1,000.
Do This Now
The Department of Homeland Security suggests everyone take these precautions in advance of a pandemic:
- Store two weeks’ worth of food and water.
- Ensure a supply of necessary medications.
- Get copies of health records.
- Discuss with your family how you might deal with caring for a loved one.
“I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming, and that disruption to everyday life may be severe,” Messonnier said. “But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.”
The best defense for you, your family and the community against coronavirus, the flu or any germs, according to the CDC:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, scrubbing for 20 seconds.
- If you’re sick, stay home and don’t spread it
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow