Although many experts - including our own CDC - have been vocal for weeks over the possibility that the COVID-19 crisis could evolve into a pandemic, the events of the past 120 hours in South Korea, Iran, Italy, and Japan have moved us substantially closer to that reality.
It's not something that a lot of countries are eager to say out loud, for fear of inciting panic or dragging down the economy - but it is now appears no longer just possible - but highly likely. Some would say we are already there.While the decision to declare a pandemic lies with the World Health Organization - and it isn't clear how, or when that will happen - countries, businesses and individuals need to begin this week preparing as if a pandemic is on the way.
How bad, or disruptive that might be, remains unknown.We could - as we did with H1N1 in 2009 - discover that this COVID-19 virus is not as fearsome as first believed. While I hope that is true, the evidence to date suggests we are not going to be as lucky in that regard as we were with the last pandemic.
Over the weekend the CDC has ratcheted up their warnings in their COVID-19 risk assessment (see below) - and while the current risk of infection in the United States is low - that could easily change over the next few weeks.
First, an excerpt (slightly reformatted for readability) from the CDC's latest situation report (follow the link to read it in its entirety), then I'll return with a postscript.
This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated information as it becomes available, in addition to updated guidance.
Updated February 23, 2020
Outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern. The risk from these outbreaks depends on characteristics of the virus, including how well it spreads between people, the severity of resulting illness, and the medical or other measures available to control the impact of the virus (for example, vaccine or treatment medications). The fact that this disease has caused illness, including illness resulting in death, and sustained person-to-person spread is concerning. 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.
The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States.
But individual risk is dependent on exposure.
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.
Under current circumstances, certain people will have an increased risk of infection, for example healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 and other close contacts of persons with COVID-19. CDC has developed guidance to help in the risk assessment and management of people with potential exposures to COVID-19.
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.
What May Happen
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.
(Continue . . . )
- Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and transportation industry may also be affected.
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.
- Health care providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed.
None of this is designed to incite panic, but it should inspire action. You don't have to go into full survivalist mode (this is my 4th pandemic, and I'm still around), but you should be preparing for disruptions.
People in Italy this weekend were caught unaware when nearly a dozen towns were quarantined with no notice. Store shelves were quickly wiped clean as residents scrambled to buy food. Despite the warning signs, few it appears, were prepared.A major focus of this blog has long been on practical preparedness for pandemics and other disasters (like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc.). Over the past month I've been writing about COVID-19 preparedness in particular. A few examples include: