Staying Safe from Coronavirus

The outbreak of a new coronavirus in China has stirred concern in the medical community and the public here.

First detected in the city of Wuhan, this strain of coronavirus is characterized by symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms may appear from two to fourteen days after exposure. It is unclear at present how it originated or how contagious it is.

As of January 31, more than 9,700 cases and 213 deaths have been confirmed in China. In the United States, the CDC has confirmed six cases, and 121 patients are under investigation pending test results to see if they have contracted the coronavirus.

The outbreak is serious, but alarm among the American public is not called for at present. This message was relayed to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a roundtable briefing by top public health officials.

One of the most interesting aspects of my job is the ability to hear directly from prominent experts on important topics of the day, and this briefing was a good example.

The presenters were Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Robert Kadlec, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Rear Admiral Denise Hinton, the Chief Scientist of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

These individuals have had extensive and distinguished careers in medicine, and as leaders at their agencies, they often coordinate the Federal Government’s response when serious public health concerns emerge. They discussed the coronavirus and the government’s reaction with members from both parties at the recent committee roundtable.

During dangerous epidemics, large crowds ought to be avoided. As a sign that this coronavirus has not become a severe threat to the American public, Dr. Fauci observed that if anyone had Super Bowl tickets, he would advise them to attend rather than stay home out of fear of the coronavirus.

The World Health Organization has reported that 20 percent of the coronavirus cases in China are severe, but that statistic may overstate the virus’ danger.

Dr. Fauci noted that residents of China often do not go to the doctor unless they feel gravely ill, so people with milder cases are less likely to report their symptoms and seek treatment. Perhaps this is due to a cultural difference between our country and theirs, or perhaps they believe dealing with China’s government-run health care system, which can feature lines of hundreds of people waiting for a doctor’s appointment, would be more trouble than putting up with a mild case of the virus.

In previous virus outbreaks, such as SARS in the early 2000s, China’s performance was inadequate. Although they can still do better, Chinese authorities have increased transparency in their handling of the outbreak.

The Federal Government is taking steps to contain and counteract what threat the coronavirus does pose.

President Trump has appointed a task force to lead the response, let by HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

The U.S. Department of State raised its travel advisory for China to “do not travel” and urged Americans currently in that country to depart. Meanwhile, the CDC is screening travelers entering the United States from Wuhan.

Thanks in part to what scientists learned from past outbreaks of similar viruses, vaccine development is occurring at a fast pace. Dr. Fauci said that a vaccine could go to the trial stage in three months.

The best ways to remain healthy remain good hygiene habits: washing hands, avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and avoiding close contact with people who are infected.

I will note that the situation can shift at a rapid pace, increasing or decreasing in urgency. The CDC website (CDC.gov) is a good place to stay informed of the latest developments. But I believe our public health professionals have a good handle on the situation at present.

Caution regarding the coronavirus is called for at this time. Alarm is not.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also, on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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