At least 34 people in the United States are infected with the novel coronavirus, and US officials are working with state and local health departments to prepare for a possible pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday.
Thirteen of the infections were diagnosed in travelers who fell ill after returning from overseas, and 21 in people "repatriated" by the State Department.
More infections are expected among the people who were passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship and are in quarantine, Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.
"We're not seeing community spread here in the United States, yet, but it's very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen," she said. "Our goal continues to be slowing the introduction of the virus into the U.S. This buys us more time to prepare communities for more cases and possibly sustained spread."
Messonnier said the CDC is working with supply chain partners, hospitals, pharmacies and manufacturers to understand what medical supplies are needed.
"This will help CDC understand when we may need to take more aggressive measures to ensure that healthcare workers on the front lines have access to the supplies that they need," she said. "We are reviewing all of our pandemic materials and adapting them to COVID-19".
Messonnier also suggested US may also close schools and businesses as virus-stricken areas in China did to contain the virus.
"The day may come where we may need to implement such measures in this country," she said.
The 13 US cases include seven in California, one in Massachusetts, one in Washington state, one in Arizona, two in Illinois and one in Wisconsin. Among those cases, there are two instances of person-to-person transmission, one in Illinois and one in California.
The 13th US case was confirmed overnight in Humboldt County, California. County officials offered few details but said a close contact with symptoms was also undergoing testing, and both are self-isolating at home.