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Confirmation of Novel Coronavirus in U.S. Underscores Need for Comprehensive Preparedness


Confirmation that the novel coronavirus first reported Dec. 12 in Wuhan, China has been diagnosed in a Washington state patient highlights the importance of preparedness measures already taken and for expanded readiness to detect, prevent and respond to this virus and those to come, at home and abroad.

As noted by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, the airport entry screening currently underway at three U.S. international airports and soon to be initiated at two more, is important to surveillance and containment of the virus. This, however, provides just one layer of preparedness. With still limited information on the virus, a comprehensive approach to detection, prevention and response will be critical.  This is especially important in the case of a patient who, like the first one reported here, was asymptomatic on his arrival. As officials reported, components essential to discovering, treating and containing the virus in the U.S. patient  included open sharing of information, preparedness on the part of federal, state and county health officials, the development of a swift diagnostic test, and the patient’s own access to health care and information about the virus.

As demonstrated by the case of this first patient in Washington, hospitals across the country must be prepared with strong infection prevention and control practices, including for patient transport, specimen sampling and isolation protocols. Also critical are protocols and equipment that protect health workers and our health system’s capacities for an effective response. Resources to ensure that patients’ contacts can be swiftly identified, monitored and provided with appropriate treatment will be pivotal to containing the spread of the virus.

As officials noted, we still have much to learn about the virus. Appropriate resources for research toward greater understanding of modes of transmission of the virus, a vaccine and treatments will be necessary. In addition, the spread of this virus to patients now identified in five countries outside of China, including the United States, highlights the vital role of strengthened funding for CDC, USAID and other US agencies for global health security efforts to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases threats where they originate.

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