ORLANDO, Fla. — The novel coronavirus is not an immediate threat to people here in the United States, and the federal government aims to keep it that way.
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- COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Novel Coronavirus
"There is no circulating sustained transmission of coronavirus in the United States," according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.
Fauci is part of the task force that instituted the U.S.'s protocols for handling coronavirus cases, which involves isolation. All of the cases so far are travel-related.
"We have 15 cases that have been identified, isolated, and their contacts have been traced," he said.
The same will happen to the 380 Americans aboard a cruise ship in Japan that was quarantined because of the virus. The U.S. chartered planes that will take the Americans from the ship right to Air Force bases in California and Texas, where they will be quarantined.
Fauci says part of the problem with the novel coronavirus, which the World Health Organization officially named COVID-19 this past week, is that there are unknown issues with the virus. The illness is different from other known coronaviruses that generally cause mild illnesses, like the common cold.
COVID-19 can have far more severe symptoms, including fever and shortness of breath. It's more closely related to SARS. While it's believed to be spread by person-to-person contact, it's not known exactly how contagious it is. There were reports in Germany that someone was sickened with the virus, and got it from someone who showed no symptoms.
Likewise, while most coronaviruses are considered "winter viruses" whose spread decreases with warmer weather, it's not known if that will be the case with this virus.
"The Flu is a Real and Present Issue"
Fauci says something the public should be paying more attention to, however, is the flu.
"The flu is a real and present issue that we are going through right now," Fauci said. "We're so used to every year having the seasonal flu that we sort of take it for granted. It's part of life. And yet each year it kills from [30,000] to 79, 80,000 on our worst year."
According to the CDC, there have been at 26 million reported flu cases this season, along with 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths. Flu activity remains high in most states across the country.
With either the flu or COVID-19, the CDC says the best way to avoid infection is to avoid close contact with people who are sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, and wash your hands frequently.
If you are feeling ill, stay home, and cover your cough or sneeze, and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.
One thing Fauci says will not protect you from getting sick is wearing a face mask.
"I think there's this misperception that wearing a mask, even if you were in an area where there was transmission, is going to absolutely protect you," Fauci said. "A mask is more appropriate for someone who is infected to prevent them from infecting someone else."
Fauci says if you are concerned about getting a respiratory illness, you might want to avoid crowds, but right now that is not necessary in the United States if you are worried about catching COVID-19.