Story at a glance

  • As U.S. citizens are repatriated, the CDC is taking preventative measures to control for the virus to spread within the U.S.
  • Known as community spread, COVID-19 is “likely” to occur through human-to-human transmission in the U.S. as seen in Asia.
  • The CDC continues to partner with local hospitals to expand its monitoring network.

As the coronavirus COVID-19 continues its global spread, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expanding its efforts to count and control for the virus, as well as prepare for a potential pandemic.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, confirmed that the CDC’s priority remains “slowing the introduction of the virus into the U.S."

"This buys us more time to prepare communities for more cases and possibly sustained spread,” she said, noting that the U.S. is not seeing the kind of rapid community spread that other countries in Asia are experiencing. 

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Community spread occurs when the virus passes from person to person in a community, and the source remains unknown. 

She says that this is not occurring in the U.S., “but it’s very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen.” To prevent community spread, she said, the CDC is taking “unprecedented aggressive action” and is working with state hospitals, health care facilities, pharmacies and emergency medical equipment suppliers to keep communities across the U.S. ready for new cases. 

Collaborating with clinics across the country will “help CDC understand when we may need to take more aggressive measures to ensure that health care workers on the front lines have access to the supplies that they need,” she said. “We are reviewing all of our pandemic materials and adapting them to COVID-19.”

Messonnier also outlined a new method the CDC will be using to track confirmed cases of American citizens with COVID-19.

She said that case counts will be reported and tracked in two different categories of patients: those repatriated with the help of the U.S. State Department after traveling to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, and then all other cases picked up by U.S. public health systems.

This system will be adopted to better understand the spread of the virus within the U.S. Messonnier said that the current numbers may not accurately represent the state of COVID-19 in the U.S.   

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The CDC confirmed that with the new system, there are 13 U.S. cases and 21 repatriated cases. Several Americans are hospitalized in Japan, as well, and are reportedly “seriously ill.”

While there have been no fatalities in the U.S. so far, Messonnier told reporters that evacuated passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship are highly contagious, and as many of them are older than the age of 60, she expects other issues to arise. 

As more than 300 American returned home earlier this week from quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess, 18 have been diagnosed with COVD-19. Messonnier expects more diagnoses as some passengers may be incubating symptoms, and may be asymptomatic.  

Messonnier confirmed that there are no current vaccines or medicines being used to target COVID-19 specifically.

According to Johns Hopkins CSSE’s real-time map, the current number of cases has risen to 76,798, and the death toll is 2,250. A reported 18,870 formerly ill patients have been recovered.

Published on Feb 21, 2020