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Coronavirus isn’t the flu and it’s this response that makes the US unprepared, health expert warns

As the U.S. continues to deal with the upswing of coronavirus cases, which has now surpassed 1,000 as of Tuesday night, most of the country still isn’t prepared for what will come next, according to public health scientists Michael Osterholm. In an interview with CNBC, he noted that the government’s current response to COVID-19 isn’t enough, given its magnitude of spread, saying that the virus is already past its containment stage.

“Right now we’re approaching this like it’s the Washington, D.C., blizzard — for a couple of days we’re shut down,” added Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “This is actually a coronavirus winter and we’re in the first week.”

Coronavirus “winter” has come for the US

For Osterholm, downplaying COVID-19 to be no worse than the flu — a narrative that many so-called pundits peddle — is one of the ways that the U.S. isn’t containing the virus. The coronavirus has an R0 between 2 and 2.5, that is, a person infected with the virus can spread it to over two people. In comparison, the seasonal flu only has an R0 of around 1.3. (Related: US coronavirus infections just surpassed 1,000 as global death rate reaches 6% which is 60 times higher than the seasonal flu.)

“We have to stop fooling people into thinking this is only by close contact where I have to be within 2 or 3 feet. We’re going to see much more transmission,” he explained. “There will be [a] widespread transmission of this virus around the country, and what we have to do is keep people who are at high risk of having bad outcomes, older, underlying health conditions, from being exposed.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists older adults and those with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, as populations who have a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.

The latest figures from the CDC reveal that 36 jurisdictions (including Washington D.C.) — or over 70 percent of states — have confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday afternoon.

In addition, he called for U.S. officials to relay to the American public the threat of COVID-19 “in a realistic way.”

“We’re going to see transmission for many, many more weeks to come,” he added. “We have to prepare for that.”

Government posts guidelines for keeping safe

The government’s coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, released guidelines to help schools, businesses, homes and offices in navigating COVID-19.

The guidelines, which look similar to that of restaurant food-safety charts, list simple behaviors — washing hands, handling food carefully and creating spaces for at-risk family members —  that health officials believe could impact the spread of the coronavirus.

Vice President Pence also posted images of the guidelines on Twitter. In addition, they will also be published on the CDC’s hub for coronavirus-related information.

“These are really simple, low-tech things,” explained Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the coronavirus task force, during the White House briefing. “There’s nothing in there that’s complicated. But it’s just stated in a way that’s clear, that people can understand.”

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