US Moves From Coronavirus Containment to Preparing for Daily Disruptions

March 9, 2020by John Tozzi, Bloomberg News (TNS)
A sign of the times in the age of the coronavirus. At the National League of Cities Conference in Washington. Feb. 9, 2020 (Photo by Dan McCue)

The reality that the United States may not be able to contain the spread of the new coronavirus began to set in this weekend as federal officials escalated warnings to vulnerable groups and said to prepare for more disruptions.

Trump administration officials appeared on the Sunday news talk shows to brace Americans for more changes to their daily routines, from reduced travel to cancellations of large events. It was a far cry from earlier statements from the president and other officials that the virus in the U.S. was contained.

Elderly people with health problems should immediately reconsider travel and large gatherings, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“You should start to distance yourself from the risk, crowds, getting on a plane, on a long plane trip, and, above all, don’t get on a cruise ship,” Fauci advised people with underlying health risks.

The government planned to dock the Grand Princess cruise ship, with about 3,500 people on it, at an unused dock in Oakland, Calif., on Monday.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the people on board would be isolated for medical care or quarantined for observation once they leave the ship. “No one who’s tested positive for a coronavirus or who has symptoms will be put in a position where they can expose other people,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

He said the country’s effort to contain the virus bought time but suggested the epidemic was entering a new phase that would be more disruptive to daily life.

“Containment worked to slow the introduction of the virus and gave people time to prepare, and now we know that communities need to look at how we deal with, with community spread and things such as social distancing, not having large gatherings, pulling down events,” he said.

PAST CONTAINMENT

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, seems particularly serious for older people and those with underlying medical problems like heart, lung or kidney disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised people in those situations to stock up on supplies like medication, food and household necessities, and to avoid crowds and contact with people who are sick, according to guidance that the agency tweeted Saturday.

Such measures may become more widespread in the weeks ahead, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

“We’re past the point of containment,” Gottlieb said on “Face the Nation.” “The next two weeks are really going to change the complexion in this country. We’ll get through this, but it’s going to be a hard period.”

He suggested a deepening economic disruption ahead, with closures of theaters and other large gatherings, and events canceled.

“I think no state and no city wants to be the first to basically shut down their economy,” Gottlieb said. “But that’s what’s going to need to happen.”

It was already underway as the weekend began, with major events including South by Southwest and the Milken Institute Global Conference called off or postponed.

In states where the virus is circulating, including California and Washington, efforts to reduce personal contact may be a preview for other parts of the country. California issued new guidance for schools, universities and events on Saturday evening.

“It’s a question of when — not if — some California public schools will face closure,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

The state had 88 cases and one death as of Saturday morning, including 24 people who were repatriated from abroad.

TESTING STRAINED

The U.S. has recorded at least 401 cases including 19 deaths, across 30 states and Washington, D.C. The highest number of confirmed illnesses are in Washington state, New York and California.

Most states have only handful of cases or a single case confirmed. The number of people infected is expected to rise as more people are tested. A flawed test and narrow criteria for screening delayed state labs and hospitals from getting as many diagnostics for the new pathogen as they sought.

That means people who may have been exposed and showed symptoms struggled to get tested. Officials and private lab companies including Quest Diagnostics Inc. and Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings are bringing more tests online.

“We need the federal government to really accelerate the production of these, the ability to do these tests,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said on “Face the Nation.”

President Donald Trump, whose administration has been criticized for sending conflicting messages on the virus, gave no direct indication that Americans should be ready to change their daily routines.

“We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus,” he said in a tweet Sunday morning.

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With assistance from Ros Krasny.

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©2020 Bloomberg News

Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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