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MetroHealth nurse Nancy Malinak, left, places a 3M Health Care Particulate Respirator and Surgical Mask 1870 on her face to make sure it fits properly during a mandatory Fit Test for the mask inside the MetroHealth Employee Clinic Feb. 19, 2020. Nurse Mary Molchan, right, administers the test. Medical employees are fitted for respirators each year as part of the hospital’s readiness efforts to prepare for possible cases of coronavirus and other infectious diseases like tuberculosis. (Lisa DeJong/The Plain Dealer)Lisa DeJong/The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The COVID-19 coronavirus is expected to spread through the United States, and health professionals, businesses and individuals should prepare, national officials said in a press briefing Tuesday.
The coronavirus meets two out of three markers of a pandemic, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Though the U.S. is taking aggressive precautions to keep the virus outside borders, as more countries experience outbreaks, that will become more difficult.
“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Messonnier said.
Messonnier said how health officials would respond to community spread in the U.S. would heavily depend on the location and severity of the outbreak. Coronavirus could severely disrupt daily life.
Many precautions could include closing schools or businesses and replacing face-to-face contact with meetings over the Internet. Large-scale events could be canceled, like in Italy, where Venice’s Carnival ended two days early.
“These are things that people need to start thinking about now,” Messonnier said. “I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning and I told my children that while I don’t think they’re at risk right now, we as a family need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives.”
The coronavirus started in Wuhan, China, in December. Since then it has rapidly spread through communities in Hong Kong, South Korea and Italy. There are now 14 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States. None are in Ohio.
A seventh person in Ohio has been tested for coronavirus sometime in the past five days, the state Department of Health announced Tuesday.
The CDC is taking steps to inform the public and health professionals about preparedness, including the release of 23 documents on infection control, hospital preparedness assessments, personal protective equipment (PPE) supply planning, and clinical evaluation and management.
The health organization already communicates frequently with local and state officials on the coronavirus. There is no vaccine to protect from the virus. There are also no drugs designed to treat it.
Symptoms of coronavirus have been found to often be mild and flu-like, including coughing, sneezing and respiratory problems.
Treating the disease in otherwise healthy individuals could look like self-imposed isolation and staying hydrated. But the coronavirus can prove deadly for older individuals and those with pre-existing heart or lung problems.
Northeast Ohioans should still be more concerned about the flu than coronavirus, said Dr. Robert Salata, an infectious disease expert with the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine, adding that flu vaccines are still available for this year.
UH is reminding individuals of infection control steps, like hand-washing. If community spread starts happening, avoiding large public events could be helpful to controlling spread.
What to remember is that there are no cases in Ohio right now, Salata said, and there’s no need to panic. It is important to stay informed.
“This is changing almost minute-by-minute,” Salata said.
The CDC is posting preparedness information for individuals and businesses, as well as updates, on its website.