A top U.S. health official on Sunday urged elderly people and individuals with underlying conditions such as heart disease and diabetes to “absolutely” avoid cruise ships as the coronavirus continues to spread across the world.
Anthony Fauci, a doctor and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned vulnerable populations against unnecessary travel — especially on cruise ships — during a series of appearances on Sunday morning talk shows.
“Something that’s important that I hope the American people appreciate is that the risk of getting into trouble with this infection ... is overwhelmingly weighted towards people with underlying conditions and the elderly,” Fauci told NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
“If you are an elderly person with an underlying condition, if you get infected, the risk of getting into trouble is considerable,” he continued. “When I say protect, I mean right now, [don’t] wait until things get worse, say ‘no large crowds, no long trips, and above all, don’t get on a cruise ship.’”
Over 100,000 people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus first documented in December in Wuhan, China. The virus has killed over 3,500 people globally, with the vast majority of deaths in China.
In the U.S., the coronavirus has killed at least 18 people and infected over 350, Fauci told “Fox News Sunday.” At least 46 of those confirmed cases were individuals who traveled aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship to Southeast Asia earlier this year. Passengers were quarantined aboard the ship in Japan for weeks.
Another cruise ship suffering a coronavirus outbreak is scheduled to dock in Oakland, California, as early as Monday, officials said. It is carrying 3,000 passengers ― 21 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We’re having an acceleration of cases now,” Fauci told Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday. “What we’re seeing is what is called ‘community spread’ in certain regions of the country, particularly in the area of Washington state.”
Earlier on Sunday, Italian officials announced a quarantine of a region in northern Italy that includes Milan and Venice that will restrict the movement of roughly 16 million people amid an outbreak of coronavirus.
Asked if that could happen in the U.S., Fauci said it’s “possible.”
″We have to be realistic,” Fauci said. “I don’t think it would be as draconian as nobody in, nobody out. But there’ll be, if we can continue to get cases like this, particularly at the community level, there will be what is called ‘mitigation,’ where you’ll have to do essentially social distancing.”
“It’s particularly important among the most vulnerable,” he continued, adding that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department would be announcing new recommendations against travel for people with underlying conditions.
“Those are the most vulnerable ones, particularly elderly people with underlying conditions ― heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes ― [should] take a look at things that are at high risk: crowded places, getting on airplanes and absolutely don’t get on a cruise ship,” he said.
The State Department tweeted later Sunday that all U.S. citizens, especially those with underlying conditions, should not travel on cruise ships.
Wallace asked Fauci about the White House’s conflicting messages about the coronavirus. President Donald Trump claimed Friday that tests for the virus are available to everyone who needs them, but Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House’s coronavirus task force, said a day earlier that the U.S. does not have enough tests to meet the demand.
“Can anybody who needs a test get a test now?” Wallace asked.
Fauci didn’t directly answer the question, but said there are currently 1.1 million tests “out there now” with an additional 640,000 expected on Monday.
“The fact is, the tests are out there,” he said. “There was a misstep early on with regards to the test, mainly a technical difficulty.”
Democrats and some public health officials have criticized Trump for downplaying the deadly impacts of coronavirus and for botching some of the related science. In describing what it’s like to work with Trump on the issue, Fauci told Politico last week that “you should never destroy your own credibility.”
“You don’t want to go to war with a president,” he said. “But you got to walk the fine balance of making sure you continue to tell the truth.”
Fauci said Sunday that he tries his best to stay away from political spin while discussing the coronavirus.
″When you have the evidence, you give it as it is,” he told Wallace. “If you don’t have all the evidence ’cause we’re in a dynamic situation, you use your best judgment in recommendations and guidelines. But you must always ― always ― be truthful with the American public.”