The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that the coronavirus outbreak could cause “severe disruption” to the lives of ordinary Americans, and urged families and communities to start making preparations.
The extent of the spread of the virus in the US is uncertain, as the CDC stopped the distribution of coronavirus testing kits after they were found to be flawed. Working testing kits are now available in only a handful of states, and it is not clear when new kits will be ready.
Donald Trump told journalists in India on Tuesday that coronavirus is “very well under control in our country” and “is going to go away”.
However, the head of immunization at the CDC, Nancy Messonnier, said that disruption to everyday life may be severe as the virus spreads among local communities.
“As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder,” Messonnier said in a telephone press briefing.
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more exactly when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
In the absence of a vaccine or medicines, other methods would be needed to contain the spread of the disease, including possible school closures, and telecommuting where possible instead of travelling to workplaces.
“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,” Messonier said. “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.”
The CDC acknowledged that the test kits it began distributing to state authorities earlier this month have been found to be faulty. The agency said in a statement that “performance issues were identified related to a problem in the manufacturing of one of the reagents which led to laboratories not being able to verify the test performance”.
Messonier said that 12 “states and localities” had working test kits, but according to independent health experts, that overall number includes only five states.
“I am frustrated like I know many of you are that we have had issues with our kit, and I want to assure you that we are working to modify the kit and hope to hand out a new version to state or local jurisdictions soon,” she said, adding ,“We are working as fast as we can”.
So far, 14 coronavirus cases have been identified so far in the US, including 12 travellers returning from abroad, and two patients who had contact with those returning travellers.
In addition, 40 Americans who tested positive on the Diamond Princess cruise ship have been repatriated, and three repatriated from China.