Former head of CDC warns coronavirus more infectious than SARS

Former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden warned Tuesday that the China-based coronavirus is more infectious than the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

“First off, this is a very serious outbreak. It is spreading widely — it appears to be more infectious than the SARS virus was in 2003, and though it is somewhat less deadly so far than SARS was, it’s still far more deadly than a mild virus that spreads,” Frieden told Hill.TV.

The former CDC chief added that the public health community is “very concerned” about the impact of the new respiratory virus both in China and on a global level.

Frieden, who led the agency during the Ebola epidemic, served as CDC chief from 2009 to 2017. He later faced allegations of groping a longtime family friend in his apartment. He pleaded guilty and avoided jail time.

More than 100 people in China have died from the coronavirus and thousands have been infected. The disease has also began to travel globally — France has already confirmed three cases of the virus and Germany on Tuesday confirmed its first case of the mysterious illness.

So far, there have been two confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. — one in Chicago and another in Washington state. There is also a third potential case being investigated in Texas.

Friedan told Hill.TV that while the immediate risk to the American public is minimal right now, he maintained that there is “a lot we still don’t know” about the outbreak. 

"For most people in the U.S., the key is wash your hands regularly, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze [and] don’t go out if you’re sick," he said. 

Friedan’s comments come after top health officials from the CDC briefed senators on the spread of the virus and how to take the appropriate steps to fight it.

While most senators left the briefing satisfied with handling of the outbreak, one GOP senator has called on the Trump administration to declare the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency.

“While all of the cases are still travel-related, we must take every precaution,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Friday.

The U.S. has already put in place screening locations for the virus in five U.S. major airports across the country. The State Department and the CDC have also issued a travel advisory, telling U.S. citizens to “reconsider travel” to the country.

—Tess Bonn