Leading health officials expect to see a significant uptick in coronavirus cases nationwide.
“We’re going to start to see those outbreaks emerge sometime in the next two to four weeks,” said Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner. “We should be leaning in very aggressively to try to broaden diagnostic screening right now, particularly in communities where there is a lot of immigration where these efforts could emerge to identify them early enough that they’ll be small enough that we can intervene to prevent — prevent more epidemic spread in this country.”
Gottlieb, one of five panelists who briefed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, said although U.S. customs officials blocked some travel and are screening travelers returning from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated, they could not have stopped every person with coronavirus from getting into the United States.
“I don’t think we should be planning for the onesie-twosie cases that we’ve been seeing thus far in the United States,” said Asha George, executive director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense. “We have to plan for the possibility that we have thousands of cases, you know.”
Hundreds of thousands of coronavirus cases could break out globally, George said, adding federal, state, and local governments should start planning for an outbreak on a massive scale.
“We’re going to see a lot more cases here, and I really worry about the helpers in the parasite patients,” said Luciana Borio, former director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council.
Julie Gerberding, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the U.S. would begin to see more cases among people who did not visit China but were exposed to the virus by people who returned from China either before the travel ban or who were not flagged in health screenings upon their return.
“We shouldn’t assume that the 13 cases that we’ve identified — I think 10 of them were travel-related people who came directly from China and imported the virus into the United States — that we just managed to find all 10 people coming in from China who happened to have coronavirus,” said Gottlieb, who added many passengers returning from China or elsewhere could have been asymptomatic or only showed mild symptoms. “Some of the modeling out of the U.K. suggests that we’re capturing about 25% of cases at best. So for every case we identify, there’s three or four that we didn’t identify.”
He added, “One or a few breakouts may happen on a local level, but until there is a trend or deadly case, local governments may not realize or be able to sound off and at least some of those cases, probably are propagating at a local level, but not enough cases have accumulated yet to be identifiable.”
Gottlieb said he believes China first saw the epidemic spread internally in November and doubts the Chinese government’s data are sound. The coronavirus was confirmed to be in the U.S. in January, unbeknownst to the public. Chinese officials announced the first known human-to-human transmission on Jan. 20.
The panel members said they are watching the world to see how the virus progresses because it will show how cases exported from China become a global pandemic. Singapore has reported 50 cases, which Gottlieb said is “concerning” because it is the middle of summer there.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Situation Report – 23
SITUATION IN NUMBERS total and new cases in last 24 hours
45 171 confirmed (2068 new)
44 730 confirmed (2022 new)
8204 severe (871 new)
1114 deaths (97 new)
Outside of China
441 confirmed (46 new)
1 deathPeople Under Investigation (PUI) in the United States*†
People under Investigation (PUI) in the United States Positive 13 Negative 347 Pending§ 60 Total 420
*Cumulative since January 21, 2020.