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NIH's Dr. Fauci to Elderly and Vulnerable: 'Don't Get on a Cruise Ship'

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

By    |   Sunday, 08 March 2020 01:17 PM

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Sunday warned limiting the scope of the coronavirus outbreak is “not encouraging because we’re seeing community spread.”

In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet The Press,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said with more people becoming ill with COVID-19, the logistics of tracing the source gets more difficult.

“I think we're getting a better sense [of the scope of the outbreak] as the days go by,” he said. “Unfortunately that better sense is not encouraging because we're seeing community spread. And whenever you see community spread you can do contact tracing. But as more communities spread it, becomes logistically more difficult.”

He also warned the risk of “getting in trouble with the infection… is overwhelmingly weighted towards people with underlying conditions and the elderly.”

Fauci pointed to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one he feels “strongly” about for those at risk — including “just don’t get on a cruise ship.”

“And this will be a recommendation: If you're a person with an underlying condition and you are particularly an elderly person with an underlying condition you need to think twice about getting on a plane, on a long trip, and not only think twice, just don't get on a cruise ship,” he said.

He added that as the spread of the virus goes up, everyone should consider avoiding big crowds.

“If we continue to see the community spread go up I think you need to seriously look at anything that's a large gathering… particularly if you're an individual who has an underlying condition and are vulnerable.”

As for the cruise ship Grand Princess, which has been directed to the nearby port of Oakland after being barred from returning to San Francisco last week due to a coronavirus outbreak, Fauci said it's a priority to get those people off the ship.

“I recommended very strongly in our meetings that we get those people off that ship, we don’t want to have a repeat of what we saw at the Diamond Princess [in the port of Yokohama] where the ship became almost a hotspot of transmission, I feel strongly about getting them off there,” Fauci told "Fox News Sunday."

Fauci added that he doubted the United States would have to impose measures as “draconian” as total shutdowns seen in Italy or China but that “anything is possible.”

“We have to be realistic. I don’t think it would be as draconian as nobody in or nobody out. But if we continue to get cases like this, particularly at the community level, there will be what we call 'mitigation,' where we have to essentially do social distancing, keep people out of crowded places, take a look at seriousness, do you really need to travel, and I think it’s particularly important among the most vulnerable,” Fauci said.

"You don’t want to alarm people, but given the spread we’ve seen anything is possible and that’s why we’ve got to be prepared to take whatever action is appropriate to contain and mitigate the outbreak," he added.

In the United States, 19 people have died out of about 450 reported cases of coronavirus, which originated in China last year and causes the sometimes deadly respiratory illness COVID-19. The outbreak has killed more than 3,600 globally.

More than half of the 50 U.S. states have reported cases. As the outbreak spreads, daily life has been increasingly disrupted, with concerts and conferences canceled and universities telling students to stay home and take classes online.

To contain the outbreak in China, the government quarantined millions of people for weeks. Italy has announced similar measures, locking down 16 million people in the north of the country.

As recently as Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would continue to hold his political rallies, which sometimes draw up to 20,000 people. The Democrats competing to challenge him in the Nov. 3 presidential election, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, have not canceled any campaign events so far.

Germany, which has nearly 1,000 cases, on Sunday urged the cancellation of all events with more than 1,000 people.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CNN cases would rise, adding that the average age of death for people with the virus was 80, and the average age of those needing medical attention was 60.

"Unfortunately, you are going to see more deaths, but that doesn’t mean that we should panic,” he said. Communities need to “prepare for more cases so we can prevent more deaths,” Adams said.

The hardest hit place in the United States has been a nursing home in a suburb of Seattle and Washington state is considering mandatory measures such as banning large gatherings but not necessarily imposing massive quarantines, the governor said.

The cruise ship Grand Princess, barred from returning to San Francisco last week due to a coronavirus outbreak on board, is now headed for nearby Oakland with 3,500 people on board, possibly to be placed under quarantine.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the government response to the health crisis, said on Friday that 21 crew members and passengers had tested positive for coronavirus on the ship, which had been linked with at least four cases from an earlier voyage.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the number of cases in New York is now 105 and he expects that to rise as testing expands.

"What we are really trying to do here is avoid the massive disruption of closing everything down for two weeks the way China did, the way Italy is doing," he said.

Cuomo said a lawyer from Westchester County who is believed to be at the center of the outbreak there had attended a number of large gatherings, contributing to the roughly 70 people in Westchester who have tested positive.

"It's these large gatherings where you can expose a number of people in a very short period of time and then it's like dominoes, right, then the tree continues to expand with branches."

Material from Reuters was used in this story.

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The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Sunday warned limiting the scope of the coronavirus outbreak is "not encouraging because we're seeing community spread."...
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Sunday, 08 March 2020 01:17 PM
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