CDC: Many Americans will probably be exposed to coronavirus at some point, 'and there's a good chance many will become sick'

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  • In a media telebriefing about the novel coronavirus, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier said “many Americans” will be exposed to the virus at some point.
  • She also said “there’s a good chance many will become sick.”
  • Still, she said, most people aren’t expected to develop a serious illness from the virus, but should take precautions especially if they’re in a higher-risk population.
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Americans should get used to the idea that they will likely come into contact with the novel coronavirus at some point over the next year or two, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a media briefing on Monday.

“This virus is capable of spreading easily and sustainably from person to person based on the available data,” she said.

A World Health Organisation report on the outbreak in China “describes the virus as being highly contagious,” Messonier said, adding that “there’s essentially no immunity against this virus in the population because it’s a new virus.”

As a result, “it’s fair to say that as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus, and there’s a good chance many will become sick,” she said.

Still, Messonnier emphasised that just because many people will be exposed to the virus, most won’t get seriously ill or die from it. Based on numbers from China, about 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild, and the 15% to 20% of cases that lead to serious illness seem not to include children.

“This seems to be a disease that affects adults and, most seriously, older adults,” she said, as well as people with underlying health conditions. People who are both older and have a chronic health condition like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease are especially vulnerable to more serious outcomes.

But everyone has a role to play in helping those people stay safe, and slowing the progression of the disease’s spread, Messonier added.

“What we as a community need to do is do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families in our communities so that, if it does spread, it is in a slow fashion so that we’re all better prepared and so that our healthcare sector can take care of patients,” she said.

Messonnier said people at higher risk should take precautions that will allow them to stay close to home

People who are over 60, as well as though with chronic health conditions, should limit their trips to highly populated places like grocery stores and stock up on food, medications, medical supplies, and other necessities now, Messonier said.

She reiterated advice to avoid close contact with people who are sick, wash your hands often and well, steer clear of “high-touch” surfaces in public places, avoid crowds (particularly those in poorly-ventilated spaces), and cancel or postpone “nonessential” travel like long plane rides.

Caretakers should also make plans in case their loved-ones do get sick, as well as a plan for if they become ill themselves, like having backup caretakers.

“Everyone has a role to play in helping to protect our family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbours who are at most risk,” she said. Even if the recommendations are unpopular or difficult, she added, “at CDC, our number one priority is the health and safety of the American people.”

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