The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is “NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States,” but that it is an “emerging, rapidly evolving situation.”
“It is impossible to be sure that the virus is not spreading without more extensive testing,” stated Jane M. Orient, M.D., president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. Testing for COVID-19 has been restricted to “persons under suspicion” (PUIs), that is persons with fever, signs of a lower respiratory infection, and a history of travel to China or exposure to a person known to have COVID-19 or travel to China within 14 days of symptom onset.
The CDC has now liberalized the criteria: “For severely ill individuals, testing can be considered when exposure history is equivocal (e.g., uncertain travel or exposure, or no known exposure) and another etiology has not been identified.” The availability of test kits is limited, and “performance issues” were identified in the manufacturing of one of the reagents, so these will need to be replaced.
“With all laboratory tests, there are both false positives and false negatives,” Dr. Orient warned.
On social media, people with cough and fever are posting their concerns that hospitals will not test them for COVID-19 even if they are negative for influenza—which is highly prevalent at the moment. One was concerned about touching, but not opening, a package she had received from Wuhan.
Virus does remain infective on surfaces for a time, Dr. Orient said, but is destroyed by ultraviolet exposure (as from sunlight) or disinfectants including rubbing alcohol. Chinese banks are disinfecting banknotes by using ultraviolet light or high temperatures, then sealing and storing the cash for 7 to 14 days before recirculating.
It is essential to stop this epidemic with public health measures, Dr. Orient said. “We may not even be able to support seriously sick people who need ventilators because the necessary drugs come from China.”
The U.S. government is racing to start critical drug and medical supplies manufacture, she notes. If people wait for an outbreak to prepare, it will be too late.
Doctors for Disaster Preparedness distributes information to help people protect themselves and their families in crises including pandemics.