The coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. could eventually grow to be as serious as the conditions in Wuhan, the Chinese city considered the epicenter of the global outbreak. This is the warning given by Dr. Marty Makary, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, in an interview with CNBC‘s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday.
“What happened in Wuhan could happen here. Why do we think otherwise?” said Makary.
COVID-19 first broke out in Wuhan in late December last year. In response to this, the Chinese government has locked down the city, as well as the province of Hubei. Since then, new cases of COVID-19 have dropped to below 50 a day, at least according to figures from the Chinese government, though the disease continues to spread elsewhere around the globe.
In his message, Dr. Makary urged Americans to take the disease more seriously. He warned that people may think that the outbreak is under control, however people here are just as vulnerable as those in Wuhan.
“The American immune system is not stronger than the Chinese immune system,” Dr. Makary told the outlet. “Viruses don’t care about politics and they don’t care about location.”
Already, U.S. cases of the disease have passed 1,000 according to data from Johns Hopkins. Of those cases, there have been 28 reported deaths and only 8 recoveries.
Numbers of COVID-19 patients have been growing worldwide. Two of the worst-hit countries, China and Iran, have over 80,000 and 8,000 cases respectively. However, Dr. Makary pointed out that these countries have not been straightforward with their data. He stated that doctors in those countries have come out and stated that their hospitals are overrun.
This fact is supported by reports from Italy and South Korea, both also heavily hit by the virus, but who have also been very transparent. As Dr. Makary pointed out, while Italy has taken drastic measures, their hospitals are still being overrun.
Dr. Makary then stated that he worried that the nation’s health-care system wouldn’t be able to handle things if a situation like Wuhan broke out. He mentioned that the U.S currently has about 100,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds that operate at full or near full capacity. “If we get 200,000 critical care cases, we’re going to be overrun,” Dr. Makary warned. “So we need to do more.”
With this in mind, Dr. Makary has urged Americans to stop all nonessential travel. Additionally, he added that, while he didn’t like talking about contingency plans, he felt that people needed to start making them.
“We’ve got to brace for a three-month problem,” stated Dr. Makary. Some examples of contingency plans that Dr. Makary listed included restaurants focusing more on home deliveries and more companies allowing employees to work from home.
He also echoed calls by the American Hospital Association to build and staff up in preparation for the outbreak. Additionally, Dr, Makary pointed to South Korea’s response as a model for how other countries, including its own, should handle the outbreak.
Despite having the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, South Korea has been, for the most part, successful in both containing the spread of the disease, while limiting the number of deaths from it. This is in part due to the country going on a massive testing spree that has allowed them to identify, isolate and treat infected people earlier than in other countries. While he admitted that the U.S. may be behind the curve, he stated that there was time to prepare and that the country should be looking at Wuhan-like numbers when it makes those preparations so as not to be caught out.