Health and Science

CDC outlines what closing schools, businesses would look like in a pandemic

Key Points
  • The CDC outlined what schools and businesses will likely need to do if the COVID-19 virus becomes a pandemic.
  • Schools should consider dividing students into smaller groups or close, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stepped up its call Tuesday for the public to start preparing for a possible pandemic outbreak in the U.S. of the coronavirus that's infected more than 80,000 people and killed at least 2,700 overseas in less than two months.

"We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad," a top CDC officials told reporters in a conference call outlining what schools and businesses will likely need to do if the COVID-19 virus starts to spread throughout the U.S.

Schools should consider dividing students into smaller groups or close and use "internet-based teleschooling," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.

"For adults, businesses can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options," Messonnier said.

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She said local communities and cities may need to "modify, postpone or cancel mass gatherings." Hospitals may need to triage patients differently, add more telehealth services and delay elective surgery, she said.

"Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, schools and everyday people to begin preparing," she said.

Last week, U.S. health officials started warning businesses, schools and parents to start preparing for the deadly new coronavirus to become a global pandemic. The localized outbreaks in places such as Italy and Iran are fueling concerns among infectious disease experts and scientists that the virus is spreading too quickly and may be past the point of containment.

On Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, called the outbreaks outside of China "deeply concerning."

"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 Tuesday. "You should think about what you would do for child care if schools or day cares closed."

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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.