The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday it is preparing for the new coronavirus, which has killed at least 1,115 and sickened more than 45,000 worldwide, to "take a foothold in the U.S."
"At some point, we are likely to see community spread in the U.S. or in other countries," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call. "This will trigger a change in our response strategy."
Health officials had confirmed 13 U.S. cases of the virus, now named COVID-19, short for Corona Virus Disease.
Messonnier said the CDC is regularly talking with manufacturers of medical supplies, such as masks and gloves, to ensure enough are available in case of an outbreak here. "At this time, some partners [in other countries] are reporting higher than usual demand for N95 respirators and facemasks," she said.
The CDC does not currently recommend the use of facemasks by the general public. Messonnier said people who are sick or under investigation should wear facemasks when around other people or with health-care providers.
"When you are alone in your home, you do not need to wear a mask," she said.
The CDC said Tuesday that a mistake at a lab led U.S. health officials to release an infected coronavirus patient from a San Diego hospital. The patient had been evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, on a government-chartered flight last week.
Messonnier said Wednesday that U.S. health officials are implementing "additional quality controls" to ensure another patient is not misidentified again.
Additionally, the CDC has monitored since mid-January more than 30,000 travelers coming to the U.S. from China. They have not detected any cases from returning travelers. Health officials are asking the travelers to monitor their own symptoms and limit their outdoor activities, Messonnier said.
"Our goal is to be as least restrictive as possible, while ensuring the safety and health of all Americans," she added. "We are continually reassessing our recommendations around quarantine and self-monitoring."
World Health Organization officials said Tuesday they worried about the virus mutating.
The coronavirus produces mild cold symptoms in about 80% of patients, Dr. Sylvie Briand, head of WHO's Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, told reporters on Monday. About 15% of the people who contract the virus have ended up with pneumonia, with 3% to 5% of all patients needing intensive care, she said.