U.S. health officials are issuing an elevated warning about the spread of coronavirus, according to The Washington Post.
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in the United States,” said Nancy Messonier, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during briefings with lawmakers and reporters Tuesday.
“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.”
Officials scrambled to halt the spread of a burgeoning virus Tuesday, from northern Italy where troops were dispatched to enforce quarantines and schools were shuttered, to South Korea, where some neighborhoods in a city of 2.5 million were brought to a near standstill.
New clusters of the illness popped up far from its apparent point of origin in China, fueling apprehension in world financial markets and political institutions. The spread fueled an increased sense of urgency among officials in some of the wealthiest nations in Europe and Asia, as well as in countries like Iran, with far fewer resources to stem the disease. But many remained uncertain about how best to contain it.
At a press conference during his visit to India on Tuesday, President Trump made a number of claims about the virus, which has sickened 80,000 and killed 2,700.
“I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away,” Trump said of the virus, which has expanded this week in Italy, Austria, Croatia and Iran. In Iran, a day after the health minster appeared publicly to make clear that all was well, it was announced he had coronavirus.
In that news conference, Trump alleged that “we’re very close to a vaccine.”
However, there is no available evidence that a vaccine is “close,” in fact, most infectious disease experts say developing a vaccine for the virus is roughly a year away.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told CNN’s Manu Raju Tuesday morning that “the vaccine for the coronavirus is moving more rapidly than any vaccine we have already tried to approve — but it will take a year or 18 months. The way to stop (an outbreak) is quarantine and monitoring.”
Trump also claimed in the news conference that all the U.S. coronavirus patients “are getting better … they’re all getting better.”
Early Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2020
The latest tally shows 35 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States as well as several other Americans with the virus in Japan.
In Italy’s north, where more than 200 people were sickened, a dozen towns were sealed off and police wearing face masks patrolled.
Two neighbors of Italy — Croatia and Austria — have reported their first cases of the virus. And an Italian doctor staying at a hotel in the Canary Islands tested positive for the virus, prompting the quarantine of hundreds of guests.
China reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December. The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths.
The World Health Organization said Monday the fatality rate was between 2% and 4% in Wuhan and 0.7% elsewhere in China.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, the WHO envoy who led a team just back from China, told reporters Tuesday the reason for the large discrepancy was partly because the disease hit Wuhan early and fast, when “people didn’t know what we were dealing with, were learning how to treat this.”
At the beginning of the outbreak, “people were finding severe disease, that’s why the alarm bell went off,” Aylward said. But now with more aggressive testing, mild cases are being diagnosed and isolated.
Still, he expressed frustration at people saying, “’Oh, the mortality rate’s not so bad because there’s way more mild cases.’ Sorry, the same number of people that were dying, still die.”
While China remains home to the vast majority of cases, the world’s attention has increasingly moved to where the outbreak would spread next. Iran was eyed as a source for new transmissions in the Middle East, including in Iraq, Kuwait and Oman, which were grappling with the spread past their borders.
The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this story.