During a press conference on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence said that the COVID-19 coronavirus was considerably more contagious than the flu as he urged Americans to continue washing their hands often and to practice social distancing.
While reiterating that the risk posed by the virus to most Americans was still low, Pence said, “We need every American to put into practice the president’s guidelines…because the coronavirus is about three times more contagious than the flu according to our best estimate.”
President Donald Trump has asked Americans who are sick, older, or who have been exposed to the virus to stay home for 15 days and to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people, as recommended by the Centers for Disesase Control and Prevention (CDC).
Trump also asked Americans to follow state and local orders, which in some jurisdictions include shutdowns of non-essential businesses and even shelter-in-place orders.
Business Insider reported an estimate this week suggesting that each person infected with coronavirus is likely infecting at least two others, which is a high rate of spread that could increase exponentially if something does not succeed in slowing it down soon.
The rate of spread characterizing COVID-19 may be higher because it this is a new virus against which nobody has existing immunity, as opposed to the flu, for which vaccines are available and immunity achievable.
The coronavirus contagion rate is lower than other illnesses such as measles, however. According to Colorado’s UC Health, coronaviruses spread mostly through tiny droplets that are disbursed when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The droplets can land on another person’s skin or face if they are in close proximity, but are usually spread when people touch each other or touch a surface on which those droplets have been deposited.
A coronavirus vaccine trial recently began in Seattle, though it is far from certain when or if an effective product could be brought to market.
As of March 21, there were over 23,000 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the United States, and at least 280 in this country have died from the virus and its complications.
It may be difficult to know what the true coronavirus mortality rate will ultimately turn out to be because, until last week, there was a severe lack of testing capacity available across the country.
Health officials have warned that the U.S. could be about two weeks behind Italy in terms of disease spread, and that nation is now experiencing hundreds of new deaths each day and has reported that hospital facilities are overwhelmed and unable treat all of the patients in need.
It is hoped that continued social distancing and self-quarantining will slow the spread of the virus so that fewer people need to be hospitalized. As things stand now, however, hospitals across the country, including those in hard-hit New York City, are facing staff exhaustion as well as shortages of equipment and supplies that are only predicted to worsen in the coming days, according to the Wall Street Journal.