CDC urges readiness as US COVID-19 count passes 600

Grand Central subway in Manhatten
Grand Central subway in Manhatten

travelview / iStock

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb, a CDC official said today at a press conference that most Americans will be exposed to the novel coronavirus this year or next.

"We do not expect most people will get a serious illness," said Nancy Messonnier, MD, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. But Messonnier cautioned that now is the time for the people who are most at risk for serious disease, including those over 60 or those with underlying health conditions, to take precautions.

"People at higher risk should avoid crowds, non-essential travel on longer plane rides, and cruises," Messonnier said, referring to a State Department warning made over the weekend that said Americans, especially with underlying health conditions, should avoid cruises.

While most communities in America are not seeing widespread community transmission, Messonnier said she's advising older people – including her parents – to stock up on medications, some groceries, and plan on avoiding close contact with people who seem sick.

"I understand these recommendations may not be popular and that they may be difficult for some people," said Messonnier. All of Messonnier's recommendations are outlined in a new document from the CDC

 Yesterday the CDC released new guidelines for physicians on testing for COVID-19. Messonnier said there were currently enough COVID-19 tests in 78 public health labs across the country to diagnose 75,000 cases of the virus. More capacity will be expected in the next 2 weeks as commercial labs begin to offer their own tests.

"Mildly ill patients should be encouraged to stay home and contact their healthcare provider by phone for guidance about clinical management," the CDC said. "Patients who have severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should seek care immediately. Older patients and individuals who have underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised should contact their physician early in the course of even mild illness."

As of Sunday night, the CDC confirmed 34 states have cases of COVID-19, as well as New York City and Washington D.C.

Cases surge in New York, Washington state

Today both New York and Washington state reported a sharp increase in cases, with New York confirming 37 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 142 cases, including 98 in Westchester County.

Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted several new policies for the state, including news that schools in the state with a positive student or employee will immediately be closed for 24 hours for a health assessment.

Cuomo said of the 142 cases, 8 are hospitalized (6%). He also said New York would begin manufacturing its own hand sanitizer in state prisons for use throughout the state to combat price gouging and shortages.

In Washington State, King County reported 33 new cases today, and three additional fatalities. This brings the county total to 116 cases and 20 deaths. All three fatalities were in Life Care Center residents. Life Care, a long-term nursing facility in Kirkland, has been the epicenter of Washington's outbreak.

According to King County officials, Life Care Center said it has completed testing all of its remaining residents and is awaiting test results.

National Public Radio reports the University of Washington-Seattle is now operating the country's first drive-through COVID-19 testing operation for employees of the university's medical system. Drive-through testing has been widely used in South Korea.

Iowa, Ohio report first cases

According to the COVID-19 tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University, the United States has 607 cases, including 25 deaths, as of Monday afternoon. Both Iowa and Ohio reported their first cases of the coronavirus.

In Iowa, the department of public health (IDPH) said yesterday three presumptive cases come from Johnson County, and all are recovering at home. 

"All three individuals were part of a cruise in Egypt," said IDPH Medical Director and State Epidemiologist, Caitlin Pedati, MD, in a press statement. "IDPH is working with local public health to assess potential exposures to others. These cases are an important reminder that all Iowans need to help prevent the spread of illness by washing hands frequently, staying home when ill, and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue."

In Ohio, three residents of Cuyahoga County tested positive for the virus, prompting Governor Mike DeWine to declare a state of emergency.

Increases in Massachusetts, LA

Over the weekend, Massachusetts reported 15 new presumptive positive cases, raising the state total to 28. All 15 cases had a direct connection to the Biogen conference held in Boston in late February. In total, 23 of the state's 28 cases are associated with that conference.

Los Angeles also reported two new cases of the virus today, including what is the city's first case of community transmission. The other case had recently traveled to Japan. LA County now has 16 cases.

"This is our first case of community transmission in LA County and we will continue to see more cases of COVID- 19," said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, director of LA's public health department, in a press statement.

"We continue to urge everyone to do their part: stay home if you are sick and keep your children home if they are sick; plan for the possibility of school and business closures, and be sure to follow any additional directives issued by Public Health and/or local officials. By working together, we can slow the transmission of novel coronavirus."

Four members of Congress self-quarantine

Also today, more members of Congress said they were self-quarantining after coming into contact with a COVID-19 patient at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

According to CNN, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida are now the following the leads of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who announced they were self-quarantining over the weekend. Gaetz rode on Air Force One with President Trump today, and Collins shook the president's hand during a visit to the CDC late last week.

This week's top reads