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What could a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. look like?

Infectious disease expert weighs in on latest facts surrounding the coronavirus epidemic

  • Created: February 28, 2020

What could a COVID-19 outbreak in the United States look like? What kind of precautions should we be taking? And could anything positive come of all this? Northwestern University infectious disease expert Dr. Robert Murphy answers these questions and more. 

Dr. Murphy is well versed in myriad aspects of COVID-19, including its physical symptoms, how it spreads, potential treatments and vaccines, and how public health officials are managing the disease’s spread. As the executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Murphy can speak to reporters about this epidemic and how it compares to previous disease outbreaks around the world.  

Reporters interested in interviewing Dr. Murphy should contact Kristin Samuelson at ksamuelson@northwestern.edu or (mobile) 847-769-6596 to arrange an interview.

Quotes from Dr. Murphy:

 What could a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. look like?

“If COVID-19 takes off here in the U.S., there will be many public health measures that could be put into play, such as: 

  • Limiting ability to travel; 
  • Banning public gatherings; 
  • Closing schools, places of worship, factories, retail stores, theaters, restaurants, offices.

“If things get really bad, like they are in Wuhan, China, there could be lockdowns of entire cities and regions. It will become difficult to get food and medications. All social events will be canceled, travel will become severely restricted and workers will continue to commute to their jobs until their place of work becomes too risky.

“It is likely that COVID-19 will cycle like the flu does and infections could decrease significantly or go away entirely after the disease runs its course. However, it also could return.

“Basic utility services (gas, water, electric) and food needs are unlikely to be severely affected. 

“We have more than 1,600 different health authorities in the U.S. and they all do what they want. No one entity is really in charge. Some are good, some are bad. The best and most reliable resources are the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization.  

“If this gets out of control, 2% of the affected population could die, which is 20-times greater than the fatality rate with flu.”

Precautions to take:

“Masks should be worn by symptomatic persons; using them as protection by healthy asymptomatic people is probably worthless. Symptomatic persons should not be outside except to a medical facility. They should wear masks when they go anywhere.

“Frequent hand washing is an excellent idea; basic soap and water is just fine. Also get used to not touching your face with your hands. Avoid hand contact with anyone.  Remember that infected persons may have no symptoms and look completely healthy.”

Possible positive outcomes from the outbreak:

“One: Vaccine technology could advance very quickly for this and other infectious diseases; Two: Antiviral medicines will be developed very rapidly for this and other viral diseases; and Three: It may encourage us to develop a strong public health policy with adequate resources and authority.”