Top CDC Official Warns Coronavirus on Verge of Pandemic: 'Prepare for Disruption'
Dr. Nancy Messonier told her family to prepare 'for significant disruption of our lives'
A top official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that the coronavirus COVID-19 is now on the verge of becoming a pandemic.
Senior CDC official Dr. Nancy Messonier issued the pubic warning while revealing she sat her own family down and warned them they "need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives."
It's no longer "a question of if... but when" the deadly virus will spread through America, CDC officials said on Tuesday.
Dr. Messonier told parents to prepare their children for homeschooling as the possibility of school closures increases.
"It's not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen," she told reporters during a Tuesday media call.
The CDC said Americans may need to look into "tele-schooling" should the virus continue to spread throughout the United States.
So far, 57 cases have been confirmed - 14 in the nation, 40 from citizens repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and three evacuated from China.
And although the threat is currently low, Dr. Messonier, CDC's director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says the public needs to be ready if the virus becomes a pandemic.
"We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad," she added.
Messonier is so concerned that she suggested that parents call their children's schools and ask if there are plans for children to attend class over the Internet or via video chat should the buildings need to close.
In fact, she told reporters she has already called her own children's school to ask how it would handle closures due to the outbreak.
Dr. Messonier said although the threat of coronavirus in the US is currently slim, the infection's international spread abroad makes containment at the US border and within the nation increasingly difficult.
Therefore, she suggested recommendations that the public could take if the virus reaches pandemic-like levels.
At a community level, this means reducing face-to-face contact in schools and officers and replacing in-person meetings with tele-schooling and teleconferencing.
"I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning, and I told my children that - while I didn't think they were at risk - right now, we as a family, need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives," Dr. Messonier said.
She said she called her children's school and asked if they are plans for tele-schooling if the building needs to close due to the virus.
"[Parents should] ask schools, are there plans for tele-school?" Dr. Messonier said.
"You should think what you would do for daycare if schools close?"
However, other health experts have advised parents not to overreact and pull their children out of school.
They cite that the number of infections among children is low and that when symptoms do appear, they're mild.
"The literature is only reporting about 100 or so pediatric cases," Dr. Terri Lynn Stillwell, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, told NPR.
Worldwide, more than 80,000 people have been infected with coronavirus and more than 2,700 people have died - mostly older patients with pre-existing conditions.
During the media call, Dr. Messonier also gave an update on test kits, some of which were flawed, that were sent to state and local health departments.
Currently, 12 "states and localities" have working test kits, but it's unclear which states and cities have them.
"I am frustrated, like I know many of you are, that we have had issues with our test," she said.
"I want to assure you that we are working to modify the kit and hope to send out a new version to state and local jurisdictions soon."
She added that 400 samples were tested at the CDC on Monday night and that there is currently no backlog despite the defective tests.
Dr. Messonier said that she and her colleagues are "hopeful" that the virus could be a seasonal illness that is more virulent in the fall and winter, but there is no way of knowing right now.
Meanwhile, the White House has requested $2.5 billion to fund better tracking of the virus, treatment development, and ramped-up production of a stockpile of 300 million facemasks and protective gear for US health care workers.
"I'm deeply concerned we're way behind the eight ball on this," said Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, during a Tuesday Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.