CDC Says Risk of Dying from Coronavirus Is Low, but ‘Many Will Become Sick’: ‘There’s Essentially No Immunity’

Americans are at a low risk of dying from the new coronavirus, but they should be prepared to get the disease, the Centers for Disease Control said Monday.

In a press briefing, a top official warned that “many will become sick” from the virus, officially termed COVID-19, as it continues to spread across the country.

“It’s fair to say that as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States, will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus. And there’s a good chance that many will become sick,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Based on data from the World Health Organization’s research in China, Messonnier said that COVID-19 is “highly contagious.”

“And there’s essentially no immunity against this virus in the population, because it’s a new virus,” she said.

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Messonnier emphasized, however, that the disease will be mild for the majority of people, with symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and a fever.

“Based on what we know about this virus, we do not expect most people to develop serious illness,” she said. “Reports out of China that looked at more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients found that about 80 percent of illness was mild, and people recovered. 15 to 20 percent develop serious illness.”

Eduardo Munoz / VIEWpress via Getty Tourists in New York City’s Times Square wear face masks

A more severe case would be a respiratory infection, similar to pneumonia, that can lead to death. Messonnier said that older adults are at the highest risk.

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“Starting at age 60, there is an increase in the risk of disease, and the risk increases with age,” she said. “The highest risk of serious illness and death is in people over 80 years. People with serious underlying health conditions also are more likely to develop serious outcomes, including death. The people who are at greatest risk are those who are older, and who also have serious long-term health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or lung disease.”

She urged people in that demographic to “stock up now” on medications and groceries, and to “be prepared to stay home.”

Messonnier added that children appear to be largely safe from developing coronavirus. Based on the study, just 2 percent of the 70,000 cases in China occurred in people under 19 years old.

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As of Monday, there have been 586 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and 22 deaths. The number of cases went up by 236 over the last two days, with the majority occurring in Washington state, California and New York. All but three of the deaths have been in Washington state, where 17 people from a long-term nursing facility outside of Seattle have died.