Initial Public Health Response and Interim Clinical Guidance for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

United States, December 31, 2019-February 4, 2020

Anita Patel, PharmD; Daniel B. Jernigan, MD


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;69(5):140-146. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


On December 31, 2019, Chinese health officials reported a cluster of cases of acute respiratory illness in persons associated with the Hunan seafood and animal market in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, in central China. On January 7, 2020, Chinese health officials confirmed that a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was associated with this initial cluster.[1] As of February 4, 2020, a total of 20,471 confirmed cases, including 2,788 (13.6%) with severe illness,* and 425 deaths (2.1%) had been reported by the National Health Commission of China.[2] Cases have also been reported in 26 locations outside of mainland China, including documentation of some person-to-person transmission and one death.[2] As of February 4, 11 cases had been reported in the United States. On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General declared that the 2019-nCoV outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On January 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary declared a U.S. public health emergency to respond to 2019-nCoV.§ Also on January 31, the president of the United States signed a "Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus," which limits entry into the United States of persons who traveled to mainland China to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents and their families.[3] CDC, multiple other federal agencies, state and local health departments, and other partners are implementing aggressive measures to slow transmission of 2019-nCoV in the United States.[4,5] These measures require the identification of cases and their contacts in the United States and the appropriate assessment and care of travelers arriving from mainland China to the United States. These measures are being implemented in anticipation of additional 2019-nCoV cases in the United States. Although these measures might not prevent the eventual establishment of ongoing, widespread transmission of the virus in the United States, they are being implemented to 1) slow the spread of illness; 2) provide time to better prepare health care systems and the general public to be ready if widespread transmission with substantial associated illness occurs; and 3) better characterize 2019-nCoV infection to guide public health recommendations and the development of medical countermeasures including diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. Public health authorities are monitoring the situation closely. As more is learned about this novel virus and this outbreak, CDC will rapidly incorporate new knowledge into guidance for action by CDC and state and local health departments.

Some coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), are the result of human-animal interactions. Preliminary investigation of 2019-nCoV also suggests a zoonotic origin,[6] but the exact origin has not yet been determined. Person-to-person spread is evident;[7] however, how easily the virus is transmitted between persons is currently unclear. 2019-nCoV is similar to coronaviruses that cause MERS and SARS, which are transmitted mainly by respiratory droplets. Signs and symptoms of patients with confirmed 2019-nCoV infection include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.[8] Based on the incubation period of illness from MERS and SARS coronaviruses, CDC believes that symptoms of 2019-nCoV infection occur within 2 to 14 days following infection. Preliminary information suggests that older adults and persons with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems might be at higher risk for severe illness from this virus;[9] however, many characteristics of this novel coronavirus and how it might affect individual persons and potentially vulnerable population subgroups, such as the elderly or those with chronic health conditions, remain unclear.