The CDC prepares for a
Hospitals across the US
prepare for coronavirus
outbreak to become global
- A larger spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus across the U.S. could overwhelm emergency rooms and cause supply shortages of some crucial medical supplies.
- The threat of the new virus comes at an already busy time for most U.S. hospitals: Seasonal flu is at its peak.
“This is the time to open up your pandemic plans and see that things are in order,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, a top official of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urged hospitals last week as an outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus ravaged much of China.
“For instance,” she continued, health-care providers need to plan for a “surge at a hospital, the ability to provide personal protective equipment for your workforce, the administrative controls and so forth that you might put place in a health care setting.”
Schuchat’s warning came as U.S. and world health officials increasingly sound the alarm of a possible pandemic outbreak of the deadly new coronavirus that has killed more than 2,100 people in China in the last seven weeks.
The COVID-19 epidemic in China has not yet met world health officials’ designation of a global pandemic that spreads far and wide throughout the world. While it has spread to more than two dozen countries, international health officials say there’s very little transmission on local levels outside of China right now. But they’ve warned that could quickly change. The virus is proving to be far more contagious than the flu, having spread from 300 people in mid-January to more than 75,700 as of Thursday morning.
Patients presenting flu-like symptoms are also being asked on a questionnaire about their recent travel history, including whether they’ve been to China in the last 14 days or have been in close contact with anyone who has, she said.
These are not people sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They have had no fever, no cough, and aren't necessarily being tested for the virus.
Instead, they simply traveled in China within the past few weeks, and have since been flagged by health officials at one of the 11 airports nationwide through which all U.S. citizens and their families flying from China are being routed. And now they're being asked to stay home for 14 days — the maximum amount of time it's thought to take to develop the illness after being exposed — limiting physical contact with others as much as possible, and watching for symptoms.
Health officials insist that these individuals do not pose a health risk to their neighbors. On the contrary, reports have suggested many travelers are going above and beyond to ensure they aren't a source of any spread.
Quarantine is for healthy people who may have been exposed to a contagious illness, and is used in an attempt to control potential outbreaks. It's different from being put in isolation, which refers to people who have symptoms or have been diagnosed with the illness.
Americans flown back to US
on plane full of healthy
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials argued the 14 infected Diamond Princess passengers shouldn’t be flown back with the 300 or so virus-free people — but ultimately lost the battle to the US State Department, according to the Washington Post.
“It was like the worst nightmare,” an anonymous senior US official involved in the decision told the paper.
“Quite frankly, the alternative could have been pulling Grandma out in the pouring rain, and that would have been bad, too.”
Test results had found that the 14 passengers were infected prior to boarding planes to the US on Monday.
“Nobody anticipated getting these results,” said another US official.
The State Department had vowed that no one with the infection would be allowed on — but then urged health officials to let the sick yet symptom-free passengers board, the paper reported.
The CDC worried about infection control aboard the planes. Principal deputy director Anne Schuchat wrote to the State Department that the stricken passengers would pose “an increased risk to the other passengers,” according to the report.
But officials with the Department of Health and Human Services and the coronavirus task force pushed back, arguing that they had been prepared to handle passengers who might develop symptoms on the flights.
The two Boeing 747s had 18 seats cordoned off with 10-foot-high plastic on all sides and infectious disease doctors would be on board.
Flightrisk: 14 US cruise passengers test positive for coronavirus aboard evacuation plane
William Walters, director of operational medicine for the State Department, said the 14 people were already in the evacuation pipeline and protocol dictated they should be brought home, according to the report.
The State Department revealed that the 14 evacuees had tested positive for the virus about an hour before the planes landed in California and Texas.
Other passengers were enraged that they hadn’t been told about the risk.
“We were upset that people were knowingly put on the plane who were positive,” said Vana Mendizabal, 69, a retired nurse who took the cruise with her husband, Mario.
“I think those people should not have been allowed on the plane,” she added. “We feel we were re-exposed. We were very upset about that.”