As the likelihood of a global coronavirus pandemic rises, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials are warning hospitals, businesses and schools to prepare for the possibility of a "significant disruption" in their communities.
"We have for a long time been saying that while we hope this is not going to be severe, we are planning as if it is. The data within the last week and the spread in other countries has certainly raised our level of concern and raised our level of expectation we are going to have community spread here," said Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, as she addressed the media about the response of the virus known as COVID-19. "What we still don't know is what that will look like."
She said the CDC is urging businesses, hospitals, communities, schools and everyday people to begin preparing as well, saying she talked to her own family about it. "I told my children that while I didn't think they were at risk right now, we as a family need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives," Messonnier said.
Here's what else she had to say about the response strategy:
2. Better access to testing is coming
Right now, CDC is operationalizing all of its pandemic preparedness response plans including specific measures to prepare communities to respond to local transmission of the virus, Messonnier said.
She addressed concerns about test kits the CDC is developing. There are 12 state and local governments that can test samples, and CDC is also conducting sampling and currently has no backlog or delay, getting results within one day, she said.
"As we move forward though, if we are looking at the trajectory of expecting that there likely will be community spread of this virus in the United States, the case definition may change away from narrowly around people with travel," she said. "If that happens, it will be more and more important that the clinicians have a full toolkit, and that's why the availability of the commercially available kits would be so helpful."
The CDC is hoping to send out a modified version of the kits to state and local governments, and commercial labs will be coming online soon with their own tests, she said.
"We are working as fast as we can, and we understand the frustration of our partners in the healthcare sector, of our partners at health departments and you certainly can imagine we want to resolve this as quickly as possible," she said. "But we have to make sure while we are resolving it we keep to the highest level of quality assurance."
3. Officials are evaluating potential supply concerns
Messonnier also acknowledged some potential concerns about the healthcare supply chain. Previous training exercises found if there was a pandemic, it would create supply issues, she said.
"We are now across the whole of government thinking through and working on those supply issues," she said. "One of them is enough protection for healthcare workers. This is clearly a priority. Healthcare workers put themselves on the front lines caring for ill patients. It certainly has to be a priority to make sure they are protected."