The COVID-19 coronavirus has now infected more than 1,000 people in the U.S., where it’s been found in nearly 40 states — and the country’s top authority on infectious diseases says thing will only get worse.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warns that the outbreak will continue to grow, now that containment measures and contact tracing have failed to prevent community spread of the virus.
“Is the worst yet to come, Dr. Fauci?” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, asked Fauci Wednesday.
“Yes, it is,” Fauci replied.
Comparing the current state of COVID-19 in the U.S. to earlier outbreaks, Fauci said that while the virus is being contained in some respects, the U.S. is still seeing more cases pop up through both community spread and international travel.
“I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now,” Fauci said. “How much worse we’ll get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country.”
He added: “Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.”
Local and state health officials, desperate to stop the coronavirus from spreading in hard-hit areas, are enacting bans on public gatherings, closing schools and encouraging people to avoid close contact with others. Their goal is to slow the virus down, as they work concurrently to contain it.
A few areas are also widening the availability of tests – including offering drive-up service. Until this week, several U.S. states did not have labs that could test for the virus. Federal officials say the role of local agencies will only become more important.
“As we experience the growing community spread in the United States, the burden of confronting this outbreak is shifting to states and local health professionals on the front lines,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said during the committee hearing.
The U.S. public health system currently has the capacity to test up to 75,000 people, Redfield said.
The country’s hotspots remain Washington state (273 cases), New York (176 cases) and California (157 cases). The coronavirus has killed at least 31 people in the U.S. — most of them in Washington. Deaths have also been reported in California, Florida, New Jersey and South Dakota.
Any potential vaccines for the virus are still at least a year or a year and a half away, Fauci said.
The COVID-19 numbers cited in this story come from a dashboard created by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, which tracks the data in nearly real-time. The figures have been more up-to-date than the public tally kept by the CDC, which updates its national map at noon each day – using numbers from 4 p.m. the previous afternoon.
The CDC maintains a separate count for the nearly 50 Americans who were repatriated to the U.S. from Wuhan, China, and Yokohama, Japan.
Coronavirus symptoms and prevention
To prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer if a sink isn’t available. The World Health Organization says people should wear face masks only if they’re sick or caring for someone who is.
“For most people, COVID-19 infection will cause mild illness; however, it can make some people very ill and, in some people, it can be fatal,” the WHO says. “Older people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes) are at risk for severe disease.”
The most common symptoms of COVID-19, according to a recent WHO report that draws on more than 70,000 cases in China: fever (in 88% of cases); dry cough (68%); fatigue (38%); sputum/phlegm production (33%).
Shortness of breath occurred in nearly 20% of cases, and about 13% had a sore throat or headache, the WHO said.
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