Health officials on Friday warned that the “community spread” of the new and potentially lethal coronavirus is “possible, even likely” in the United States.
At least 18 Americans who’ve returned home from a quarantined cruise ship are infected with COVID-19, bringing the number of cases in the U.S. to 35, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Nancy Messonier said.
More confirmed cases are likely among the returned passengers from the Diamond Princess, a cruise vessel that had been quarantined in Japan, the CDC says. More than 300 passengers were flown back to the U.S. last weekend and are now quarantined for two weeks at military bases and hospitals.
“We’re not seeing community spread in the United States yet,” Messonnier told reporters. “It’s possible, even likely, it will eventually happen.”
The CDC is adapting its 2017 guidelines for preventing a pandemic flu for use in the event the coronavirus, which originated in China, starts spreading widely in the United States, Messonnier said.
A systematic closing of schools and canceling of other gatherings could become necessary.
To detect whether the virus already is spreading silently beyond the known cases, the CDC is adding testing to the network that normally tracks flu, Messonnier said. When a patient sample tests negative for flu, lab workers will check it for the new virus.
That additional testing will begin next week, she said.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), alarmed by the recent spread of the coronavirus from Iran, warned Friday that while the chance to contain the virus globally still exists, “the window of opportunity is narrowing,” USA Today reported.
“We still have a chance to contain it, but we have to prepare for other eventualities,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This could go in many directions, it could be even messy. It is in our hands now. … We can reverse or avert serious crisis. If we don’t, if we squander this opportunity, then there could be a serious problem on our hands.”
Among other measures, Tedros called for financial aid to help countries fighting the virus buy critical medical equipment and strengthen their health systems.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.