CDC issues sharp coronavirus warning

The director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases asked the public to "work with us and prepare in the expectation that this could be bad."
6:14 | 02/26/20

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Transcript for CDC issues sharp coronavirus warning
A busy morning. Coming off the democratic debate. It was a raucous one, Bernie Sanders on the firing line. For the first time they debated that issue on so many of our minds, coronavirus. It came right after a new warning from the CDC saying its spread here is inevitable and Americans should prepare for significant disruptions in their lives. Overseas a U.S. Soldier has become the first American service member infected and fears hitting Wall Street hard again with the Dow dropping nearly 880 points there are now more than 81,000 cases worldwide. Let's go to Steve osunsami outside CDC headquarters in Atlanta with more this morning. Good morning, Steve. Reporter: Good morning to you, Michael. One of the things that has authorities at the CDC concerned are the outbreaks that are taking place across the world. Outbreaks outside of Asia that they cannot directly tie back to Asia. The CDC is putting it plainly that it's not a question of if the virus will spread in the United States, but a matter of when. We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad. S people are getting better. Reporter: While the president is trying to calm the panic, lawmakers on capitol hill weren't so convinced. Sorry. You're head of homeland security. Do we have enough respirators or not? Reporter: The government says they could need 300 million masks and respirators to fight an outbreak but only has 30 million on hand. At a 3M plant where the masks are made they're working around the clock and it's still not enough. The frustration in Washington is overflowing. This is not the time to try to shortchange the American people. Reporter: A vaccine still at least several months away and for now if there's an outbreak health officials are recommending Americans work harder to clean surfaces and to distance themselves from crowds. Meanwhile overseas the number of cases is rising and in south Korea the U.S. Military is announcing it's on high alert as the first U.S. Service member has tested positive for the virus. That 23-year-old soldier is now in self-quarantine at his off-base residence. In Italy there have been more than 320 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. American schools like Syracuse and Fairfield university are closing their study abroad programs in the country. Grace Palmieri and Lauren tassi are studying in Florence. They have been told not to travel to Milan. Most of the information that we're getting is from our advisers here. We're just kind of trying to take whatever precautions they tell us to. We were both supposed to travel this weekend to Milan and had to cancel our trips because we were told that it's probably best that we stay home. Reporter: At a hotel in Spain's canary islands, the doors are chained shut and nearly a thousand tourists have been ordered to stay in their rooms because an Italian guest is sick with the virus. The government is not only trying to calm the panic but also the nervousness in the economic markets. One thing we keep hearing is the number of deaths worldwide from the coronavirus is far below the number of deaths in this country from the flu this season alone. Got to keep that in mind. The CDC's principal deputy director Dr. Schuchat is here can you please break down how dire the situation is right now? This is a relatively new virus and we're learning every day more and more about it. One of the things we've learned it's quite transmissible beyond the outbreak in China, the outbreak on the cruise ship, we now have outbreaks in Europe, outbreaks in other countries in Asia and we recognize that our very strong measures here in the United States to contain the virus, to keep it limited to very low numbers may not hold for the long haul. We don't know exactly what will occur here, but the transmissibility has us wanting to be prepared. We also know that the virus is not as severe as we first feared in the reports out of hubei province. What we're seeing in terms of severe cases is primarily the elderly and people with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease that are hardly hit. What we aren't seeing is a lot of disease in children which is a feature of flu so we're still learning and we want to be prepared and the outbreaks in Europe and in South Korea and the Middle East have made us want to raise our attention. How are you being prepared? Because president trump is saying that everything is under control. Do you share that right now and what are the steps going forward? We work very closely with state and local public health partners. We actually practice for pandemics and threats like this and so we've been intensifying our communication outreach to the health departments, because when outbreaks hit, it's really on that front line, city, county or state that public health is on call so we're equipping them with guidance about how to address this threat, should it arrive in their communities, and working on their strategies. We're also reaching out to the health care sector and to businesses and educational settings. It's really a question of making sure that those plans we had for a potential pandemic are updated and ready to implement should we need them. What is your advice for people who are watching this morning, precautions they can take? Well, this is a respiratory virus and we think it's spread through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes and so forth so those sensible measures we talk about every year with the flu are important steps you can take. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, stay home when you're sick and wash your it's a great reminder that washing your hands is a good prevention step for respiratory virus's. Can never say that enough. Dr. Anne Schuchat, thank you very much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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