U.S. health officials, preparing for a potential U.S. outbreak of the new coronavirus, said they hope COVID-19 will prove to be seasonal and subside in the summer, like the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there is a hypothesis among mathematical modelers that the outbreak "could potentially be seasonal" and relent in warmer conditions.
"Other viral respiratory diseases are seasonal, including influenza and therefore in many viral respiratory diseases we do see a decrease in disease in spring and summer," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call Tuesday. "And so we can certainly be optimistic that this disease will follow suit."
Last week, U.S. health officials started warning businesses, schools and parents to start preparing for the new coronavirus, which has infected more than 80,000 and killed at least 2,700, to become a global pandemic. The localized outbreaks overseas in Italy, Iran and South Korea are fueling concerns among infectious disease experts and scientists that the virus is spreading too quickly and may be past the point of containment.
Few conclusions have been drawn about the trajectory of the virus, Dr. Messonnier said, so the CDC is preparing for wide-scale community outbreaks in the U.S.
"As time keeps ticking forward, we're going to be, again, preparing as if this is going to continue, and preparing as if we're going to see community spread in the near term," she said. "But I'm always going to be hopeful that that disease will decline either for the summer or that we'll be over-prepared or that we won't see that kind of high-level transmission here in the U.S."
The CDC late Monday confirmed 53 cases in the U.S., a majority of which came from passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan. The data shows that 36 of the cases are attributed to the cruise ship, three patients were infected in Wuhan and later evacuated to the U.S. and the rest were largely infected while traveling overseas.
Just two cases were contracted through person-to-person contact in the U.S., the CDC said.
"I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now," Messionnier said on Tuesday. "You should think about what you would do for child care if schools or day cares closed."