The coronavirus has now infected 83,000 people and killed more than 2,800 at the time of writing, most of which has taken place in China.
The virus is spreading to more countries, who are working out what their response should be, and putting in place measures to try to stop the spread of the virus. The reaction from the US has been mixed. Whilst the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Nancy Messonnier said that “it’s not so much of a question of if [it will spread around the US] anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen", Trump insisted: “I don’t think it’s inevitable. I don’t think it’s inevitable because we’re doing a really job at the borders and checking people coming in."
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released an updated situation summary, including a risk assessment of the virus as it currently stands and their best prediction of what may happen.
"The fact that this disease has caused illness, including illness resulting in death, and sustained person-to-person spread is concerning," the CDC write. "These factors meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer toward meeting the third criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus."
They stress that though spread of the disease from travelers returning from Wuhan to close contacts has occurred, currently in the US the virus is not spreading in the community.
"For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low," they write, adding that healthcare workers who have been in close contact with patients with COVID-19 are most at risk.
"However, it’s important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. In that case, the risk assessment would be different."
They outline what may happen in the coming days and weeks.
"More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. It’s also likely that person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in the United States."
Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism. Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths."
They say that other infrastructure – such as the emergency services and transport industry – could be affected if the above were to take place.
"Health care providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Nonpharmaceutical interventions would be the most important response strategy."
Global efforts are currently focused on containing the spread of the virus and mitigating its impact, including restricting travel and issuing travel guidance as well as quarantining those who are sick.
Currently, 60 cases have been confirmed in the US, with only one infection taking place in someone who hadn't traveled abroad before they contracted the disease. The CDC will now allow clinicians to test more people who are suspected to have the virus. Previously the guidelines were to only test those who had recently returned from China or those who had been in close contact with someone who had the disease.
Whilst it all sounds scary, the number of cases in the US remains low. Current advice for avoiding the disease remains that you should avoid contact with the sick, wash your hands with soap (why weren't you doing this anyway, you animals?!?), and seek medical attention if you feel ill with fever, a cough, or are experiencing difficulty breathing. You should also avoid travel whilst sick to prevent potential spread, and (for god's sake) cover your mouth and nose with your sleeve or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.