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Biocontainment expert on coronavirus: There's no need for average people to panic yet

America may now be facing 60 cases of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, but one expert says there’s no need to panic just yet.

“I don’t think we’re at the level yet where the average person needs to be panicking about this,” Dr. Brian Garibaldi, medical director of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s biocontainment unit, told Yahoo Finance’s The Final Round. “But I think it’s important to remember that we’re still in the middle of this flu season. And those basic efforts can do a lot to prevent the spread of this virus.”

While the number of cases may seem daunting, the majority of the cases reported in the U.S. stem from passengers who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan.

The state of coronavirus outbreak as of 2/27/20. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Fiannce)

The outbreak began in Wuhan, the capital of China’s central province of Hubei. The virus strain was previously unknown and is speculated to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at a market in Wuhan, according to Reuters. China has since issued a ban on wildlife trade and consumption until the situation calms down.

A very similar version of the coronavirus previously caused SARS almost a decade ago and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). Stats from China indicate that around 2% of those infected with the new virus have died, but many of them were elderly or had prior medical conditions. The mortality rate for SARS was similar when it first began and peaked at almost 10%.

A respiratory specialist in charge of about 30 critical COVID-19 patients in his section, writes encouraging words for a patient in a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Photo: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

U.S. health care system is prepared

Garibaldi added that the U.S. public health system was prepared to take on the virus and has already taken several preemptive steps.

“I think the concern is that, if we run through these supplies too quickly… there could be a shortage of critical things for health care workers, like masks,” he said. “That’s something we’re worried about, but you know, there is a national stockpile of these that can be transferred around the country as we speak.”

How are hospitals dealing with potential cases of the coronavirus? 

Garibaldi said that at his hospital, if there’s a suspicion that someone has the virus, that person is put in respiratory isolation.

“And that starts with health screeners in the emergency departments or people in primary care clinics, getting patients to wear masks right away, if they have respiratory symptoms,” he explained. 

‘We’re in the middle of a really bad season’

Taking a step back, before reacting to multiple headlines about the coronavirus, Americans need to recognize that the country is going through a normal cold season, and that stepping up simple hygiene habits help.

“We’re in the middle of a really bad season, and the same things that are going to protect you from COVID-19 are also going to protect you from getting the flu,” Garibaldi said. “Which is really good hand hygiene, [and] staying home from work or school, if you’re sick, so that you don’t potentially expose others, colleagues, friends, family to infections.”

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami

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