CDC official warns Americans it’s not a question of if coronavirus will spread, but when

(CNN) — The latest tally of novel coronavirus cases in the United States has jumped to 57, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as one of the agency’s top officials warned Tuesday that health experts expect to see the virus spread.

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

The tally now includes 40 passengers who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three people repatriated from China and 14 US cases, the CDC said Tuesday.

Of the 14 US cases, two of them were the result of person-to-person transmission, one coming in California and the other in Illinois, health officials said.

The breakdown of US cases is eight in California, two in Illinois and one each in Massachusetts, Washington, Arizona and Wisconsin.

The three patients repatriated from China came from Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the CDC.

Late last week, CDC officials said there were more Diamond Princess passengers who tested positive for coronavirus in Japan and those cases would be added to the US count once the results were official.

News of the uptick in US cases comes as the worldwide count topped 80,000 people, the overwhelming majority in China. At least 2,700 people have died.

The emergence of hundreds of cases outside China — namely, in Italy and South Korea — has served to disrupt global supply chains, corporate profits and American and international markets.

While on a trip to India, US President Donald Trump cast coronavirus as “a problem that’s going to go away,” but experts worry a pandemic could be in the offing, given the virus’ spread in Europe and the Middle East.

The CDC is employing a twofold approach, working to contain the virus while also implementing strategies to lessen the impacts on communities, Messonier told reporters.

“We’ve also enacted the first quarantine of this scale in the US, and are supporting the State Department and (Department of Health and Human Services) in repatriating citizens from high-risk areas,” she said.

In addition, the center is tracking and isolating cases when it can, issuing travel advisories for affected countries and taking on the increasingly difficult task of preventing the introduction of new cases, most notably at points of entry into the United States, she said.

Messsonier described the containment strategies as “largely successful” and said they were geared toward “buying us more time to prepare.”

The two person-to-person transmissions are concerning, as is the fact the virus has caused deaths — two of the three criteria necessary for declaring a pandemic, she said.

“As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer toward meeting the third criteria: worldwide spread of the new virus,” she warned. “As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder.”

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