People who have underlying health conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes—particularly those who are elderly—should be cautious amid the outbreak of the new coronavirus, top U.S. officials said.
“It is a good time for any American who is elderly, by however they define it, and has a serious underlying health condition to think carefully about travel,” Vice President Mike Pence said at a press conference in Washington on Friday, citing data from the United States and other countries about the new virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19 and has killed thousands worldwide and has a suspected mortality rate of between 0.1 and 1 percent.
The group of people most likely to get serious cases of COVID-19 are people with health issues, especially those who are older, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Those people should use common sense in choosing what to do and where to go as the virus spreads in the United States, considering measures known as “social distancing,” Fauci said.
“What we mean by that, is if you’re a person who is in that category: think twice, even before you get on a plane for a long trip, or you want to travel, or you want to go to a place that’s crowded where there may be people who are in fact, have an infection of any sort—that doesn’t necessarily have to be even coronavirus, it could be influenza or anything like that,” Fauci advised.
He urged people to think about “not putting yourself in a situation, whatever that might be, that might increase the risk, given your situation.”
Relatives of people with health conditions should take time to try to take care of them, Fauci said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone, including people with health conditions, frequently wash hands, avoid sick people, and not touch one’s face with unwashed hands.
People should also regularly clean surfaces and objects at home, work, and school, and stay home if sick.
Most of the deaths in the United States from the new virus have been among those who have health issues, especially people in their 70s or 80s. Thirteen deaths have taken place in Washington state, including 10 linked to the Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home just outside Seattle. At least five residents at the home have died, all aged 70 or older except for a man in his 50s, as well as a man in his 60s who visited the center.
Two deaths in Florida from the new virus were reported by officials on Friday. They were described as elderly. Both contracted the disease outside the country.
The first American death outside Washington was reported on Wednesday. The female patient, described as elderly, was likely exposed to the virus while traveling on a cruise ship that departed San Francisco on Feb. 11 and returned 10 days later.
Pence, who was set to meet with cruise company executives on Saturday, told reporters Friday that cruise ships represent a “unique challenge” and urged elderly Americans to “use common sense caution” in planning any cruise ship vacations in the future.
Officials explicitly advised Americans to avoid cruises in Asia last month, but haven’t said to not go on cruises in other areas.
The Grand Princess, the ship the California woman sailed on, was being held off the coast of the state following her death. Twenty-one people on board, including 19 crew members, tested positive for the virus, Pence said. Federal and state officials planned to direct the ship to a non-commercial port in the coming days, where tests would be performed on everyone on board.
Those who tested positive would be quarantined, similar to those who were evacuated from Wuhan, China, where the virus first emerged, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was docked in Yokohama, Japan.
“We are taking all measures necessary to see to the health of the Americans and those involved on the grand princess and, just as importantly, to protect the health of the American public and prevent the spread of the disease through communities in this country,” Pence said.