Top U.S. health officials this week provided further details on the nation's "coordinated public health response" to the China-linked coronavirus that's killed more than 100 people and sickened thousands of others worldwide.
During a Tuesday news conference which included U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease (NCIRD) Director Nancy Messonnier, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, officials said the outbreak is a "potentially very serious public health threat" in the U.S., but the current risk to Americans remains low. To date, there are five confirmed cases of the novel virus in the U.S.
Azar said the U.S. has made repeated offers to send a team of CDC officials to China to help with the outbreak response. The offer was first made on Jan. 6, he said, adding U.S. officials have continued to urge more transparency from the country as the disease spreads.
"This is a major public health issue, and we need the best public health people in the world right now [to respond]," he said.
However, Azar noted that China's overall response has been significantly better when compared to their response during the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003. At the time, China was accused of covering up the outbreak, which was not announced to the public until about five months after it began, according to The New York Times.
In recent weeks, Chinese government officials have said they've learned from "past mistakes" — top officials have reportedly warned lower-level officials to not cover up the spread of the new coronavirus, which has been linked to an animal and seafood market in the city of Wuhan and is now said to be transmissible between humans.
During the press conference, Azar also noted that the country quickly made the virus's genetic sequence available to scientists, ultimately leading the CDC to create a rapid diagnostic test in a week's time.
The health secretary's remarks on transparency came just as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that China has agreed to allow international experts into the country "as soon as possible" to help with the outbreak. It's not yet clear if these experts will include CDC officials.
“Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority,” WHO Director-General Dr.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said in a statement. “We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated, including sharing data and genetic sequence of the virus. WHO is working closely with the government on measures to understand the virus and limit transmission. WHO will keep working side-by-side with China and all other countries to protect health and keep people safe.”
Meanwhile, the CDC on Tuesday updated its China travel recommendations to level 3, its highest alert. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also released its new website for novel coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV.