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The coronavirus is continuing to spread worldwide, with more than 111,000 cases and 3,800 deaths as of Monday, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., officials continue to urge Americans not to panic, citing the infection’s low mortality rate as well as lack of community spread in most regions. Still, with over 500 cases nationwide, experts are making clear that now is likely a good time to prepare for a larger outbreak of the virus — one that may temporarily uproot Americans’ daily lives.
On a call Monday, Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national center for immunization and respiratory diseases, said that the likelihood the virus will continue to spread is high. “There's essentially no immunity against this virus in the population because it's a new virus,” said Messonnier. “Based on this, it's fair to say that as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus, and there's a good chance many will become sick.”
Messonnier stressed, however — as others doctors have — that the CDC does not expect most people to develop serious illness. The mortality rate of coronavirus in China, where it originated, has hovered above 3 percent. But experts in the U.S. and Europe predict that the mortality rate in other countries will remain far below 1 percent, meaning that the vast majority of those with the infection will make a full recovery.
For now, with the virus extending to 34 states, Messonnier says that those aged 60 and over — as well as those who are immunocompromised — should start to plan now. “Our goal is to protect you,” said Messonnier. “This will require you and your family to take action.” Here are the CDC expert’s tips.
Make sure you have medicine on hand
The first of the CDC’s recommendations is to stock up on medicine in the event pharmacies are temporarily unavailable. “Make sure you have supplies on hand, like routine medications for blood pressure and diabetes and over-the-counter medicines,” Messonnier said Monday. “[And] medical supplies to treat fever and other symptoms.” On top of prescription medicine, experts recommend those most at-risk buy products to treat a common cold, such as nasal decongestants and fever reducers such as Advil or Tylenol.
Stock up on non-perishable food
Messonnier’s next piece of advice was to buy food and other essentials that will allow you to stay home for an extended period. “Have enough household items and groceries so that you will be prepared to stay home for a period of time,” said Messonnier. NBC’s Today suggests focusing on canned goods, such as vegetables, fruits and beans, as well as “pantry staples” like pasta, quinoa, applesauce, nuts and nut butter, seeds, baby food and shelf-stable milk.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick
One of the simplest things that Messonnier recommends for those most at risk is to steer clear of those showing obvious symptoms of a cold or other illness. “[Avoid] close contact with people who are sick,” she said. “[Clean] your hands often and to the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places.” As of now, no cases of the virus being transmitted through surfaces have been documented — suggesting that it’s unlikely to live on countertops and other commonly touched areas. At this point, the virus seems to be spread only through respiratory droplets (sneezing and coughing).
Stay away from crowds
The final recommendation from Messonnier and the CDC for those most vulnerable is to refrain from attending highly-populated events or participating in unnecessary travel. “Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces,” said Messonnier, citing travel recommendations from the U.S. State Department. “We also recommend that people at higher risk avoid nonessential travel such as long plane trips.”
Overall, Messonnier said it’s important for every American — no matter their risk — to be aware of who may need support. “Know what's going on in your community,” said Messonnier. “If you could end up in the role of helping to care for a family member or a friend who is at greater risk, we recommend you familiarize yourself with your loved one’s medication and to help them get extra to have on hand.”
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