What would be a sign that the disease is becoming more dangerous in the United States?
The first thing for Americans to worry about is sustained human-to-human transmission. We know of 13 cases, and only one of them has been transmitted from person to person. But if that changed to hundreds of cases, we might get an outbreak that contact tracers, people who find every person who has been exposed to a virus, are not able to get ahead of.
It’s possible that would have happened already if we hadn’t cut off flights from China. We’re buying time to find out, “Hey, do these cures that they’re testing in China work?” It’s going to take at least a year to have a vaccine.
What do you think about the public’s reaction to your reporting?
I’m always trying to figure out, “Am I being alarmist or am I not being alarmist enough?” I was too alarmist about H5N1 back in 2005, the bird flu. I was not alarmist enough about West Africa and Ebola in its early days. All previous Ebola outbreaks had killed a few hundred people. That one killed 11,000.
A lot of people write panicky, naïve stories. They make it on TV and everybody says, “What about the possibility this is a bioweapon?” It’s not enough for me to say, “No, it’s not a bioweapon.” I have to explain, “If it were a bioweapon, here’s what you would see in the genetic sequence of the virus.”
That requires some digging, because I don’t know the answers off the top of my head. I have to call several scientists. A lot of what I do is write notes to my bosses and colleagues saying, “This is why we should — or shouldn’t — ignore this.”
That’s a big part of my beat — debunking the panicky stories. It actually consumes almost as much of my time as reporting does.
I try to spread truth instead of panic, even if it takes me a little longer to get it right.
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- Most coronavirus cases are mild, complicating the response – The Washington Post
- Coronavirus may have much longer incubation period–which would mean quarantines have been too short – The Hill
- Coronavirus contagion fears in Silicon Valley – Vox.com
- Map: New coronavirus tool compares growth of virus to SARS, H1N1 and Ebola – The Mercury News
- Update: ‘A bit chaotic.’ Christening of new coronavirus and its disease name create confusion – Science Magazine
- Images of new coronavirus just released – Livescience.com
- How the Coronavirus Numbers Changed So Sharply – The New York Times
- Coronavirus disease 2019 – World Health Organization
- How the coronavirus outbreak likely started with a bat – Vox.com