(CNN)As an outbreak of a novel coronavirus has swept through Hubei province, China, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been preparing for its worst case scenario — a widespread outbreak of illnesses in the United States.
“Right now we’re in an aggressive containment mode,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an interview on Thursday.
“We don’t know a lot about this virus,” he said. “This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission.”
As of Thursday, there have been 15 cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed in seven states: eight in California; two in Illinois; and one in Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Texas.
While more research is needed to fully understand the virus, Redfield told Gupta that the CDC has focused on surveillance to track cases and containment strategies to slow possible progression of the virus in the United States. Slowing progression gives more time for researchers to work on developing and testing a vaccine and antiviral drugs for this novel coronavirus. Currently, there is no known cure for the virus.
“The containment phase is really to give us more time. This virus will become a community virus at some point in time, this year or next year,” Redfield said. “We don’t have any evidence that this coronavirus is really embedded in the community at this time, but with that said, we want to intensify our surveillance so that we’re basing those conclusions based on data.”
The containment strategy refers to efforts to prevent widespread transmission of the coronavirus in the United States, including having people with confirmed cases stay in isolation and placing restrictions on travel between affected areas in the world. Such containment measures were used widely during the SARS global outbreak of 2003, during which 8,098 people worldwide became sick and of those, 774 died, according to the CDC.
Due to the current novel coronavirus outbreak, the Trump administration has put in place travel restrictions that block foreign nationals from entering the United States if they visited China in the 14 days prior to their arrival to the United States.
Restrictions also apply to US citizens who have been in China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, in the two weeks prior to their return to the United States. Upon their return, those citizens will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of up to 14 days.
World Health Organization officials and other experts have criticized travel restrictions on foreign nationals, even arguing that such restrictions could backfire.
“We reiterate our call to all countries not to impose restrictions that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit,” WHO Director-General Tedros Ahanom Ghebreyesus said last week during a media briefing in Geneva.
US officials have defended the government’s response, saying they’re taking important steps to prepare for the virus and slow its spread — and that the timing of their efforts is key.
“Frankly, some people criticized when we decided that we wanted to temporarily suspend travel into the United States from individuals who were not Americans or permanent residents who had been in the hot zone in the last 14 days. Some