It might be time to start preparing yourself for a coronavirus pandemic.
CNBC reports that American doctors are worried that if the COVID-19 epidemic spreads beyond a few isolated cases in the United States, it could lead to a crisis as patients overwhelm emergency rules and exhaust stores of medical supplies.
"This is the time to open up your pandemic plans and see that things are in order," Dr. Anne Schuchat, an official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned last week, according to CNBC.
Schuchat also cautioned health care providers to prepare for a "surge at a hospital, the ability to provide personal protective equipment for your workforce, the administrative controls and so forth that you might put place in a health care setting."
Hospital officials told CNBC that preparations include stocking up on masks, gloves and gowns — and training workers on how to use respirator masks to avoid becoming infected themselves. Efforts also include instituting a new system of screening patients for COVID-like symptoms or recent travel to China, officials said.
While the outbreak has already blown past the dictionary definition of a pandemic, health officials have so far urged caution in the application of that terminology.
But increasingly, officials have warned healthcare providers that it's time to prepare for a pandemic scenario. French health minister Olivier Veran, for instance, said Tuesday that he saw a "credible risk" of a global pandemic.
And, while most experts have resisted making concrete projections about the spread of the outbreak, some have started to narrow down possibilities. Experts told Bloomberg this week that future scenarios range from a "new flu" to a full-on pandemic.
But many experts, like NYU Langone Health epidemiologist Jennifer Lighter, agree that the best defenses against the virus are the same common-sense measures that work against most other pathogens.
"We are trying to communicate to NYU staff and patients in our medical center how to best protect themselves from the flu or COVID-19," Lighter told CNBC. "That’s just general info like basic hand hygiene, sneezing into the end of your elbow and practicing safe distance from someone who is sick."
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