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Coronavirus: Public Health Officials Warn of Inevitable Spread, Then Walk Back on Message

Photo by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). CDC is shipping the test kits to laboratories CDC has designated as qualified, including U.S. state and local public health laboratories, Department of Defense (DOD) laboratories and select international laboratories. The test kits are bolstering global laboratory capacity for detecting SARS-CoV-2.


Alhambra , CA

We are on a bit of a roller coaster for CDC coronavirus updates, including another name for the virus: SARS-CoV-2, for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The Centers for Disease Control issued a sobering warning but pulled back hours later.

In a telebriefing on Feb. 21 and Feb. 25, health officials in the United States said it’s not a matter of if the virus will spread, but when the virus will spread throughout the community.

“We never expected we’d catch every traveler with novel coronavirus from China.  It would be impossible.  We’re not seeing spread here in the United States yet, but it is possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen.  Our goal continues to be slowing the introduction of the virus into the U.S.,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, on Feb. 21.

“Ultimately, we expect we will see [coronavirus spread throughout the community] in this country,” Messonnier updated press on Feb. 25. “It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.”

The symptoms for coronavirus are flu-like respiratory symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath. Health officials believe it is transmitted during close contact – within six feet – through droplets in coughs or sneezes that are then inhaled and/or enter the eyes, nose or mouth of the other person.

The CDC has plans for community preparedness. View their recommendations.

“Disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things that people need to start thinking about now,” Messonnier said.

A few hours after the Feb. 25 briefing, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scheduled a conference at the last minute, clarifying that they want to have a large-scale response prepared if person-to-person spread begins.

“We believe the immediate risk here in the United States remains low, and we’re working hard to keep that risk low,” said Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the CDC.

Health officials are currently addressing COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 with “aggressive containment” of the virus, locally tailored interventions and public health system preparation. This prevention and preparedness is something the CDC has been doing since the 2009 H1N1 “Swine Flu” pandemic, and the “playbook” is being used for coronavirus too, according to Schuchat.

If you’ve been keeping track of the spread of COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 on an international level, the virus has been spreading as international travelers realize they’re sick and others became infected. There are almost 40 countries with at least one reported case of coronavirus.

For locations where the virus is spreading or locations with a widespread outbreak, the CDC specifically advises, “Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel.”

Travel alerts for China and South Korea are at “warning level three” and non-essential travel is restricted. “Alert level two” countries are Iran, Italy and Japan, where traveling would be high-risk for coronavirus transmission.

See all of the CDC’s travel notices and recommended precautions here.

In the U.S., the CDC is still differentiating the cases confirmed through public health systems and cases confirmed among evacuees from Wuhan, Hubei, China and the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan because the circumstances are different – it’s not the same transmission and risk.

In the Feb. 21 briefing, Messonnier stated that almost all the Wuhan evacuees have competed their 14-day quarantine, and “I want to be clear that someone who has been released from quarantine is not at risk or spreading the virus to others.  Specifically, they are not infected.”

Messonnier said even if someone recovers, like the man in Washington state or couple in Illinois, in the eyes of the CDC, they still remain a case.

The passengers of Diamond Princess cruise were in a close-quarters, closed-off setting where there was significant spread of the coronavirus. There are now 36 confirmed cases among the 329 people who were on the State Department-chartered flights that left Japan with passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The CDC expects additional cases from the cruise passengers. Many of them are over the age of 60 and the CDC said they are prepared for other medical issues and hospitalization of this group. The Diamond Princess passengers are all on federal quarantine bases and hospitals.

The number of cases from the State Department’s Wuhan, China evacuees is still three. The CDC confirmed cases in the general population is still 14, as of Tuesday night. There are no more in L.A. or Orange counties than previously reported.

The CDC tested and confirmed the first case in the U.S. on Jan. 20, 2020, in Snohomish County, Wash. – on Feb. 20 the man was released by the CDC and county, “fully recovered and free to go about his regular activities.

The Centers for Disease Control will be announcing their numbers of COVID-19 cases on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If a case is diagnosed on a Thursday, it will be announced in the Friday numbers.

“Stay home if you’re sick, cover your cough, wash your hands,” Messonnier said.

While the flu remains a bigger public health threat in Southern California and the country, the coronavirus is a  changing situation. The Alhambra Source will continue to provide updates on major developments.


Our previous reporting:

Coronavirus: How Many Have It, Where and Who Has Recovered from COVID-19

Coronavirus Update: County Officials, AUSD and Garvey Superintendents Host Public Health Presentation

Still No Coronavirus in SGV: AUSD Sticking With Health Facts as Petition Emerges Urging Suspension of Classes

Coronavirus: Here’s What Happened in the Last Few Days

AUSD Officials Speak to Current Health Situation in Communities, Schools video

Coronavirus is Not in the San Gabriel Valley. The Flu is a Bigger Threat to Families This Lunar New Year.

El coronavirus no está en el valle de San Gabriel. La gripe es una amenaza mayor para las familias este año nuevo lunar.


For more information from the Alhambra Source, go to our Stay Healthy page.

For more general information on the coronavirus, go to the Centers for Disease Control’s summary page.

The Alhambra Source encourages comment on our stories. However, we do not vet comments for accuracy or endorse links to posts in the comment section. The thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author of the comment.

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