The coronavirus is spreading across the world at a rapid rate, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and no person, government or country is immune from the impact of what is expected to become a global pandemic.
What began as a watch-and-wait strategy at the local, state and federal level in the U.S. has now shifted into high gear as President Donald Trump announced he would hold a press conference on the coronavirus on Wednesday evening. (See related story)
Meanwhile, two new coronavirus cases have been reported in Americans who had traveled on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, health officials said Wednesday. The new cases bring the U.S. tally to 59, the Associated Press reported.
The CDC warned the American public to prepare for an outbreak of the disease, which has spawned more than 80,000 cases around the world but relatively few so far in the U.S.
Closer to home, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont addressed how state officials and medical professionals are planning to handle the impact of the disease should it become more prevalent here.
Lamont said during a press conference at the Emergency Operations Center in Hartford on Wednesday, “Connecticut is ready and we’ve been ready for awhile,” adding there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Connecticut and only one in New England so far. However, he also acknowledged that it is likely the virus could soon be detected here.
“We are making sure we can provide all the support we can for our hospitals and our healthcare providers. We’re making sure that they are ready to get all the supplies and personnel they need pending on what could happen going forward,” he said. “This thing is breaking fast, it was really just detected a couple months ago and we found out there was person to person contact cotangent just a month ago and we’ve been meeting on this every day.”
According to Jennifer Jackson, CEO of the Connecticut Hospital Association, officials have been working in partnership with the Department of Public Health and other state agencies and are prepared to identify, isolate and treat infected patients.
“As part of Hartford HealthCare’s commitment to safety and keeping our patients and our employees safe at all times, we routinely prepare as a system to respond to emergencies, including such illnesses like the coronavirus,” said Ajay Kumar, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Hartford HealthCare. Since early January, Hartford HealthCare has been monitoring the coronavirus in China, Japan, and South Korea and has implemented protocols to respond accordingly.”
The hospitals in New Britain and others in Connecticut are using screening tools to help identify infected patients, said Kumar.
“We have an algorithm in place in our Emergency Department to verify any patients that come in; so there will be questions asked like have you traveled outside the U.S. in the last 60 days, where and when? If they’ve been in contact with someone with coronavirus the Department of Public Health will be contacted right away and the patient will be put on a surgical mask and be put in a different part of our emergency department if that happens,” said Chris Boyle, Director of Public Relations for Bristol Hospital.
“We have allocated an emerging high impact pathogen phone number which is operational 24-7 providing access to a Hartford HealthCare infectious disease specialist to help guide the care process,” said Kumar. “And we are making sure we have adequate personal protection equipment, resources and supplies to respond.”
The governor noted during the press conference that all states, not just Connecticut are scrambling for supplies such as masks, gloves and protective gowns, noting that his office is in constant contact with the state delegation down in Washington to secure federal grant money to help pay for supplies.
According to the Associated Press, Trump pushed back Wednesday against criticism that his administration isn’t doing enough to meet the coronavirus threat, as lawmakers called for giving disease fighters much more money than the $2.5 billion the White House has requested
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have questioned whether the president’s funding request to address the growing health threat is sufficient.
“We will put together a supplemental that will address this issue,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who chairs a key panel that sets spending for health agencies. Aides said the House measure is likely to be unveiled next week.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy released a statement that reads in part, “The president’s emergency funding request to respond to the coronavirus is far too little, and far too late. Weeks after it was already clear that this was a developing crisis where a speedy response was critical, President Trump finally sends up a supplemental request of $1.25 billion in new funding - a fraction of what we have done in previous health emergencies, and a tenth of what he has already spent in so-called emergency funding for his worthless border wall”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed concern for U.S. service members, military personnel, and their families from the rapidly spreading coronavirus both at home and abroad.
“In addition to South Korea, there are U.S. personnel in countless countries throughout Asia and Europe -– two continents in which an increasing number of COVID-19 cases are being reported,” Blumenthal stated. This public health crisis is clearly evolving into an even more urgent global threat,” Murphy said.
According to information on the CDC website, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people. However, “early on, many of the patients in the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread.” Symptoms include: fever, cough and shortness of breath. “CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.”
The AP reported that the National Institutes of Health received a shipment of test doses of a vaccine candidate from Moderna Inc., in preparation for first-step safety testing in a few dozen people aimed to begin by April. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH’s infectious disease chief, cautioned reporters that in a best-case scenario, “you’re talking about a year to a year and a half” before any vaccine would be ready for widespread use.
Fauci said that while only a few cases have turned up in the U.S. from travelers outside the country, “we need to be able to think about how we will respond to a pandemic outbreak.”
“It’s very clear. If we have a global pandemic, no country is going to be without impact,” Fauci said.
A pandemic involves the continual spread of sustained transmission from person to person in multiple regions and hemispheres throughout the world simultaneously, Fauci noted.
The Associated Press contributed to this article