Story at a glance
- Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC updated reporters on the risk factors for contracting a severe case of COVID-19.
- She emphasized older people with preexisting conditions should take precautions to reduce exposure.
- Messonnier confirmed an increase in public lab testing capabilities.
In a press briefing on Monday, March 9, Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasized to reporters that older Americans are at the highest risk for a serious infection of the COVID-19 coronavirus and urged them to take extra precautions.
Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, referenced data from China that analyzed more than 70,000 cases of COVID-19.
“So far, it seems like it’s [COVID-19] not children,” she stated and clarified that only about 2 percent of infected patients were people younger than 19.
“This seems to be a disease that affects adults and older adults. Starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of disease.” Messonnier continued to emphasize that the risk of serious illness — and death — increases with individuals older than the age of 80. Serious underlying health conditions are likely to have bad outcomes as well, such as heart or lung disease, or diabetes.
Existing data also confirm that the virus is transmitted “easily and sustainably from person to person” which leads Messonnier to believe that most U.S. citizens will be exposed to COVID-19 over the next two years but also that the CDC doesn’t “expect most people to develop a serious illness” as a result of infection. Again citing Chinese data, Messonnier explained that about 80 percent of confirmed cases were mild and resulted in recovery. Approximately 15 to 20 percent developed a more serious form of illness.
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To help combat a coronavirus infection, Messonnier urged higher-risk populations, such as elderly citizens and people with preexisting conditions, to have supplies readily available, such as regular and over the counter medications, as well as plenty of food in the event of illness. She also recommended avoiding close contact with sick individuals, to wash hands regularly and avoid crowds, frequently-touched surfaces and poorly ventilated spaces.
Additionally, the CDC and State Department discouraged nonessential travel for the same high-risk demographics.
In terms of domestic response efforts, the CDC has increased its public health lab capacity. Messonnier confirmed that 78 local labs across all 50 states now have the capacity to test up to 75,000 people for COVID-19. She said that more information to come for clinicians and for the public on test kits and availability.
The U.S. now has 500 cases across multiple states and the District of Columbia and 19 total recorded deaths. The majority of cases in the U.S. are on the West Coast in California and Washington, where Messonnier said that there will likely be more widespread efforts to prevent further community spread in those regions, such as quarantines and work and school closures.
Messonnier took this opportunity to clarify that most parts of the country are not facing community transmission and that it is “not a time for people to clear out the shelves” when asked about public anxiety over the coronavirus.
She encouraged people to listen to local health departments and to contact your health care provider if they become ill. One topic she addressed was surgical masks, which have been selling out of pharmacies and grocery stores.
Messonnier emphasized that the public should be saving the masks and other preventative equipment for “health care workers on the front lines” or who are in close contact with the virus, and asked civilians to “fight the urge” to stock up on face masks.
“Everyone has a role to play in helping to protect our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors.”
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