CDC on COVID-19: ‘Take Action’ to Protect Vulnerable People

The CDC on Monday recommended that individuals at the highest risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 have adequate stores of food, needed medicines, and other essential supplies, and that they limit travel to minimize exposure to the novel coronavirus as the outbreak spreads across the nation.

“In the setting where it’s really clear it is older Americans who are the highest risk right now, we want to make sure that they’re taking every precaution to prepare themselves so that if there is more widespread transmission they can stay close to home,” said Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a media briefing.

“This is a time for people to prepare for what they might need to do, but not a time for people to clear out the shelves,” she later added.

Messonnier warned that if the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the U.S. will be exposed to the COVID-19 coronavirus, “either this year or next,” but stressed that most will not develop serious illness.

“The people who are at greatest risk are those who are older and who also have serious long-term health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease,” she said.

Citing data on more than 70,000 COVID-19 cases in China, she noted that 80% involved mild forms of the illness while 15%-20% were serious. Individuals age 60 and older were found to be at increased risk of serious illness or death, with the greatest risk in those 80 and up. Just 2% of the cases were in people under 19 years. She also noted that in South Korea nobody under 30 has died, and in Japan nobody under 50 has died.

“The data really says that as you get older the risk goes up,” she said. “I would recommend that people make their own decisions based on an understanding of that risk.”

Over the weekend, the CDC and State Department introduced recommendations that travelers, especially those with serious underlying conditions, “defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.” And on Monday, Messonnier added that individuals at the greatest risk of serious illness from COVID-19 should avoid crowds, non-essential travel, and long plane rides, and start stocking up on essentials.

“Our goal is to protect you — this will require you and your family to take action,” she said.

In the event that people at higher risk for serious illness need to stay home for days at a time (i.e., their community is hit by the outbreak), CDC recommended having groceries and household items on hand, as well as routine medications for blood pressure and diabetes, and over-the-counter drugs and medical supplies for fever or other possible symptoms.

Messonnier recommended that individuals develop plans to care for such individuals — family member, friend, or colleague — and even procure such essentials for them “so they can minimize trips to the store.”

“I understand these recommendations may not be popular,” she said.

As of today, more than 110,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide. While 34 states have reported cases, California and Washington have been affected most by the outbreak. Of the 19 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., 18 have occurred in Washington and the other was in California.

Messonnier said that as local health authorities ramp up mitigation strategies in Washington and California to deal with community spread, containment efforts such as contact tracing will still continue on some level there and in other communities.

“It’s not an on-off switch, it’s a dimmer,” she said. “We really believe that in most communities contact tracing is really appropriate, because identifying those contacts and keeping them from spreading can have a significant role in slowing this down.”

Last Updated March 09, 2020