CDC: We Are Preparing As If This Were The Next Pandemic (Wuhan Coronavirus)

“Strong measures now may blunt the impact of this virus…”

From the CDC:

Operator: Good morning and afternoon, and thank you for standing by.  As a reminder, today’s conference is being recorded.  If you have any objection, please disconnect at this time.  The lines are in listen-only mode.  It is now my pleasure to turn the conference over to Mr.  Benjamin Haynes.  Sir, you may begin.

Benjamin Haynes: Thank you, Michele, and thank you all for joining us on the update on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus response.  We are joined by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of CDC National Center for Respiratory Diseases.  She will provide opening remarks.  I’d like to now turn the call over.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier:  Thank you for joining us today.  Since we last briefed you CDC has confirmed additional five infections with novel coronavirus in the United States bringing the total number of confirmed positives in the U.S.  to 11.  The new cases include one patient identified in Massachusetts and four more patients in California.  Four of the five patients have travel history to Wuhan, China.  One patient in California is a close household contact of another patient in California.  This is the second instance of person-to-person spread in the United States.  We expect to find additional cases of novel coronavirus infection in the United States.  We expect to see more cases of person-to-person spread among close contacts.  And we continue to expect this will happen given the explosive nature of this outbreak in China and our very aggressive public health response where we are putting a lot of resources into finding infections this virus.  As of this morning, 167 persons under investigation, or PUIs as we call them, have tested negative for infection with the novel virus.  We currently have testing pending on 82 PUIs.  Some of the 82 that are pending include samples in transit to CDC.  As we have reported earlier, CDC has developed a real-time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction or RRT-PCR test that can detect 2019 Novel Coronavirus and respiratory and serum specimens from clinical specimens.  On January 24, CDC publicly posted the assay protocol for this test.  CDC has isolated the virus, and this week it is being sent to the NIH resource repository for use by the broad scientific community.  I’m pleased to report that, today CDC plans to submit an Emergency Use Authorization or EUA package to FDA.  The EUA process expedites the use of potentially life-saving medical or diagnostic products during a public health emergency.  Once approved, the EUA will allow public health labs across the United States to use the CDC developed diagnostic assay.  This will greatly enhance our national capacity to test for this virus.  In preparation for that approval, CDC has shipped the test to the International Reagent Resource so that States and international partners can begin ordering the test for their use.  Also on the topic of this test, I want to clarify something I said on Friday in relation to the people quarantined at March Air Reserve Base, that even if an initial screening test comes back negative from CDC’s laboratory, it does not guarantee these people won’t get sick.  There has been some confusion about that statement, and some people have taken that to mean the test doesn’t work.  That is not the case at all.  This is an accurate test.  A negative test most likely means a person is not infected.  However, it may mean that an infection has not developed enough to be detected by the test.  This is a new virus.  And the best timing and right type of sample to determine if someone is infected with this new virus has not yet been determined.  When confirming infections, CDC asks for multiple different types of samples from patients, including from the nose and the throat.  On Friday, the U.S. government also took unprecedented steps in the area of travel in response to the growing public health threat posed by this new coronavirus.  The intensity of transmission in Hubei province; the expansion to other provinces in China; the continued community transmission; the growing volume of exported cases to countries around the world; the continued reporting of deaths, including the first death outside of China; and reports of person to person spread outside China, including the United States, are all cause for concern.   Now I want to talk to you through the specifics of the travel policies announced late Friday afternoon.  We have a presidential proclamation in place that suspends entry of foreign nationals who have visited China within the past 14 days into the United States.  There are some exceptions.  Sorry, there are some exemptions including for immediate family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.  These people will be allowed entry into the United States.  It’s important to note that this policy is from mainland China, and it excludes people coming from Hong Kong and Macau.  We are also putting into place measure to detect this virus among those who are allowed entry into the United States who are entering the country within 14 days of having been in Hubei province or the rest of mainland China.  All of these passengers will be directed to one of 11 U.S.  airports.  At those airports, American citizens and exempted persons who have been in Hubei province in the previous 14 days will have an additional health assessment.  They will be screened for fever, cough, difficulty breathing.  If symptomatic, American citizens and those who are exempt will be transferred for further medical evaluation.  They will not be able to complete their itinerary and will be isolated for 14 days.  If asymptomatic, American citizens and those who are exempt will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine at or near that location.  Remember, this is specifically for people who are returning from Hubei province.  These people will not be able to complete their itinerary.  CDC is working with state to determine where travelers will be quarantined.  American citizens and people who are exempt who have been in other parts of mainland China, that is outside of Hubei province, in the previous 14 days will have an additional health assessment where they will be screened for fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.  If symptomatic, they will be transferred for medical evaluation and they will not be able to complete their itinerary until that evaluation is completed.  If asymptomatic, American citizens and people who are exempt will be allowed to reach their final destination, and after arrival will be asked to stay home as much as possible and monitor their health for 14 days.  Today, CDC is issuing additional guidance for States on how to monitor this process.  And you should not be surprised to learn that we have been in constant contact with our State as well as Federal partners all through the weekend in working on operationalization of this policy.  We appreciate their patience and we also appreciate the cooperation of the American citizens and exempted people who are returning as we are reliant on their cooperation in order to implement these operations.  There is likely to be confirmed infections among returning travelers.  It’s important to know that this strategy is not meant to catch every single traveler returning from China with novel coronavirus.  Given the nature of this virus and how it’s spreading, that would be impossible.  But working together we can catch the majority of them, and the goal here is to slow the entry of this virus into the United States.  Our second line of defense in this strategy is a public health system which is on high alert.  We’ll continue to monitor the situation and adjust accordingly.  Either pulling back or strengthening these measures.  These actions are science based and deemed at protecting the health and safety of all Americans.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier:  I want to give you an update on another activity.  The Department of State is bringing more people back from Wuhan.  The first plane arrived last week.  More are planned.  Over the weekend CDC sent four additional teams to specific Department of Defense locations where those planes will arrive.  These passengers, like the ones in March air reserve base, will be under Federal quarantine that will last 14 days from when the planes left Wuhan, China.  Medical staff will monitor the health of these people, including temperature checks and observation for respiratory symptoms.  Medical care will be readily available at the first onset of symptoms.  We do not believe these people pose a risk to the communities where they are being temporarily housed as we are taking measures to minimize any exposure.  As I look around me at the staff working on this outbreak here at CDC, I see a lot of people who worked on the 2009 h1n1 pandemic.  Rather than coming from abroad, that virus was on our doorstep when we recognized it.  We didn’t have much chance to prepare.  Today we are again seeing the emergence of the new virus that poses a very serious public health threat.  This time we do have time to prepare, and we are preparing as if this were the next pandemic.  The goal of our public health response is to detect and contain introduction of this virus with the goal of preventing sustained spread of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in this country.  Strong measures now may blunt the impact of this virus on the United States.  We would be happy to take questions.

Benjamin Haynes:  Michelle, ready for questions.