Press Briefing by Members of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force
Issued on:January 31,2020
James S.Brady Press Briefing Room
SECRETARY AZAR: Well,good afternoon,everyone. I’m Alex Azar,Secretary of Health and Human Services,and Chairman of the President’s Task Force on the Novel Coronavirus.
I’m going to start by turning things over to Dr. Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to discuss the current situation on the novel coronavirus. Dr. Redfield.
DR. REDFIELD: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Let me give you an update on the current situation of the novel coronavirus. First though, I want to emphasize that this is a serious health situation in China, but I want to emphasize that the risk to the American public currently is low. Our goal is do all we can do to keep it that way.
Second, I want to recognize the concern that the American public may have. And I want to reiterate what I just said: Currently, the risk of the American public is low.
As of today, there are nearly 9,700 cases in China, with more than 200 deaths. Additionally, currently there are another 23 countries that have confirmed, totally, 132 cases. This also includes 12 individuals who have been confirmed in six countries who did not travel to China.
CDC has launched an aggressive public health response focused on early case recognition, isolation of those cases identified, and contact tracing around those individuals.
This response is a layered response, which includes both targeted airport screening, as well as heightened education and awareness of the American healthcare community to be vigilant in ascertaining the possibility of recent travel to China when they are evaluating patients with upper respiratory tract infection.
To date, we have confirmed six cases of this novel virus in the United States. The most recent case had no travel history to China, but was a close personal contact of one of the previous cases that we had identified through our aggressive contact tracing. In addition, there are currently 191 individuals that are under investigation.
Once again, I want to emphasize that this is a significant global situation, and it continues to evolve. But I also want to emphasize again that the risk at this time to the American public is low.
SECRETARY AZAR: Thank you, Dr. Redfield. I would now like to invite Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, to discuss the underlying rationale for the actions that I will be discussing after he concludes. Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. The concept that’s underlying the action that you’ll hear about shortly is the issue of the unknown aspects of this particular outbreak. So let me enumerate just a few of these.
I can start off by putting it into perspective by telling you I often get asked — we have an influenza outbreak here. We have about 8,000 deaths already. We have about 100,000 hospitalizations. Why are we paying such attention? And why are we doing the kinds of things we’re doing here right now?
Well, the reason is, despite the morbidity and mortality with influenza, there’s a certainty, for example, of seasonal flu. I can tell you all, guaranteed, that as we get into March and April, the flu cases are going to go down. You could predict pretty accurately what the range of the mortality is and the hospitalizations, as we’ve done over the years.
The issue now with this is that there’s a lot of unknowns. As you can see just from the media, the number of cases have steeply inclined each and every day. You know that, in the beginning, we were not sure if there were asymptomatic infection, which would make it a much broader outbreak than what we’re seeing. Now we know for sure that there are.
It was not clear whether an asymptomatic person could transmit it to someone while they were asymptomatic. Now we know from a recent report from Germany that that is absolutely the case.
There are a number of countries outside of China that have travel-related cases. And now what we’re seeing is that there are secondary cases from them, and, as Bob mentioned, we also have that in this country. The WHO has issued, as you know, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern declaration.
If you put all these things together, I underscore what Bob said: We still have a low risk to the American public, but we want to keep it at a low risk. And because there are so many unknowns here, we’re going to take the action that the Secretary will describe, in a temporary way, to make sure we mitigate, as best as we possibly can, this risk. Thank you.