Top U.S. Immunologist: Coronavirus On Brink Of Becoming Pandemic

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The coronavirus is on the brink of becoming a pandemic, according to the top infectious disease specialist in the U.S.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told WCBS 880 on Tuesday that in order for the coronavirus to reach pandemic levels, there needs to be transmission from one continent to another – which we are seeing – and a second factor – which we are not seeing.

“It’s not yet sustained and when you say sustained, you mean multiple generations of transmission, clearly that is happening in China,” he says.

Fauci said the coronavirus is likely to become a global pandemic if containment measures aren’t improved.

According to the latest data, over 80,000 people have been infected globally from the viral outbreak that began in Wuhan, China. More than 2,700 people have died from the virus and a total of 35 cases have been reported in the United States.

Now, with troubling outbreaks in Italy, South Korea and Iran, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that it is inevitable that the coronavirus will spread more widely in America.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen — and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization's envoy to China, also adds that countries could be doing more to prepare, including training hundreds of workers to trace the virus' spread from person to person and planning to commandeer entire hospital wards or even entire hospitals.

“Time is everything in this disease,” Aylward said. “Days make a difference with a disease like this.”

While there are still no confirmed cases of the virus in New York, both state and federal health officials are remaining vigilant, according to Dr. Fauci.

“What the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doing is they're doing some sentinel testing, in which when people come in with symptoms that resemble influenza, but they test negative, then they will get a test for the coronavirus,” Dr. Fauci explains.

Health officials are recommending that people wash their hands often and always cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of infection.

Though some have taken to wearing medical masks, especially in densely populated urban areas such as New York City, Fauci notes that they don’t do much to protect.

“There is no transmission of coronavirus in New York City, to our knowledge. Right now, walking around with a face mask in New York City, I'm not sure what the advantage of that is,” he said.

Meanwhile, the drugmaker Moderna has shipped a potential coronavirus vaccine for humans to government researchers for testing.

The company said it sent vials to an arm of the National Institutes of Health for early-stage testing in the United States on Monday.

(© 2020 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)