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The coronavirus isn’t going away. At least, not any time soon. In fact, it will more than likely be making the headlines for much of the foreseeable future. As recently as this past Tuesday, federal health officials urged the public to prepare for the “inevitable” spread of the coronavirus within the United States.

The CDC and NIH  issued dire warnings to senators and reporters in a briefing about the looming certainty of the coronavirus spreading here with Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC admonishing, “Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in the United States. It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.”

But later in the day, Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director said, “We believe the immediate risk here in the United States remains low, and we’re working hard to keep that risk low.”

Messonnier said the rapid surge in cases outside mainland China in the past several days prompted the official change in warnings.

Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that efforts to contain the spread of the virus outside China have failed. It certainly doesn’t help that China isn’t being as forthcoming about information as we would hope. And with more diagnoses around the globe and at least 57 in the United States (14 of which were on the Diamond Princess), questions are arising daily about severe the virus will be here.

 “Community spread,” Messonnier said, is sparking more aggressive strategies to confront the respiratory virus, including urging businesses, health-care facilities, and even schools to plan now for ways to limit the impact of the illness when it spreads. Adding to that,  Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said health officials had cautioned them that there was a “very strong chance of an extremely serious outbreak of the coronavirus here in the United States.” in a closed-door briefing on Tuesday morning.

Then, on Wednesday evening, President Trump held a press conference about Covid-19. When asked about the “inevitable spread in the US” the President said, “Well, I don’t think it’s inevitable. It probably will. It possibly will. It could be at a very small level or it could be at a larger level.”

So why the inconsistent messages? And why are we getting so many contradicting reports from global media? Much of the responsibility can be laid at the feet of the Chinese government, but the bottom line is that this is a new virus and we just don’t have enough data… yet.

What then, are we the public, supposed to make of the convoluted and obscure public health advice coming from the CDC? And how do we prepare for it? 

Implement the same common sense techniques you always do (with a couple of not-so-common sense tips added.)

  • First, DON’T PANIC. It’s important to stay calm.
  •  Be intentional about being aware of your environment.
  • WASH YOUR HANDS for at least 20 seconds with warm water and antibacterial soap. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap is unavailable.
  • Go to the doctor if you experience symptoms such as:
    • Coughing
    • Fever
    • Shortness of breath
  • You can call your child’s school superintendent to find out about the school system’s plans.
  • Find out what your place of employment’s plan and policy is regarding teleworking and conferencing calling vs conducting meetings in person.
  • Keep a close eye on travel updates, especially if traveling out of the country. 

The bottom line is this: The coronavirus is a threat, but with common sense and intentionality, it doesn’t have to be a monster waiting to attack. The common flu has infected and killed an unfathomably larger number of people than this. It’s wise not to stick our collective head in the sand about the spread of the coronavirus and wiser still, to not let it rule our lives making us live in fear.