Public health experts said during congressional testimony on Wednesday the United States should be preparing for “thousands” of new coronavirus cases rather than believing that only a couple will emerge.
At the same time experts were testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Pentagon was dusting off plans to deal with a potential coronavirus “pandemic” that could spread across the country.
The Epoch Times reported that Asha George, executive director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, said that the United States should be preparing ahead for cases of coronavirus, officially COVID-19, in the thousands.
“I don’t think we should be planning for the onesie-twosie cases that we’ve been seeing thus far in the United States,” George said. “We have to plan for the possibility that we have thousands of cases.”
George was one of five health experts called to testify about the spread of the virus to the U.S., as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the 14th coronavirus victim on Wednesday.
The individual was one of the Americans evacuated from Wuhan and quarantined in Southern California’s Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego County on Feb. 7.
Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told the Senate panel that he expects an outbreak to emerge across the United States in the next two to four weeks, the Times reported.
“We should be leaning in very aggressively to try to broaden diagnostic screening right now, particularly in communities where there is a lot of immigration; where these efforts could emerge to identify them early enough; that they’ll be small enough; that we can intervene to prevent more epidemic spread in this country,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Military Times reported that U.S. Northern Command is currently executing plans to prepare for a potential coronavirus pandemic, according to Navy and Marine Corps service-wide messages issued earlier this week.
Under guidance from an executive order issued by the Joint Staff and approved by Defense Secretary Mark Esper this month, Northern Command along with geographic combatant commanders are implementing plans for a pandemic that include ordering commanders to make preparations while confining any service members with a recent travel history to China.
The order instructions Northern Command to implement the Department of Defense Global Campaign plan for Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Diseases 3551-13.
“The document serves as the Pentagon’s blueprint for planning and preparing for widespread dispersion of influenza and previously unknown diseases,” Military Times reported.
Still, in no way “does the planning indicate a greater likelihood of an event developing. As military professionals, planning for a range of contingencies is something we owe the American people,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Hatfield said.
Gottlieb told the Senate panel that it’s likely health screenings in airports missed infected travelers because of the extensive incubation period of the disease.
“Some of the modeling out of the UK suggests that we’re capturing about 25 percent of cases at best. So for every case we identify, there’s three or four that we didn’t identify,” he said.
A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Julie Gerberding, told the panel that because health officials were initially unable to control the spread of the virus, “I think we need to be prepared for what are we going to do to try to slow down the spread.”
“Slowing down spread is important, because if we have a lot of cases all at once, we simply don’t have the surge capacity to manage that in our healthcare environment, or in any of the related services that would be necessary,” she added.