MINNEAPOLIS — Weeks after first warning the public about the global threat posed by the Novel Coronavirus, Dr. Michael Osterholm says there is no longer time to delay preparations in the United States.

"Our prediction is we're going to start seeing widespread transmission in the United States in the next four to six weeks," said Osterholm, Director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. "It's already occurring as early transmission now. We're just missing it because of the inability to test."

Who is most at risk?

When the CDC eventually catches up with widespread demand for more testing kits, Osterholm says he expects to see new cases daily, but he does not expect to see many of those cases in kids.

"This disease, right from the get-go, has largely spared children," he said. "Only about 2.1 percent of the cases are actually in children 19 years of age or younger."

As he's tracked the spread of the virus, Osterholm says people age 50 and older with underlying health problems have been most at risk for severe symptoms and death. 

"In China, clearly, men were at a much higher risk because there is a very high rate of smoking," Osterholm said. "We don't know what it will mean here in the United States because we have an obesity issue. We know obesity too, can be a risk factor."

Is the flu shot helpful with Coronavirus symptoms?

"No, there is no cross-protection whatsoever between the flu vaccine and coronavirus," Osterholm said. "But we still recommend getting the flu vaccine, even yet, because the flu season is still marching on."

Should I be looking for face masks/respirators?

Osterholm says people should not rush to buy face masks. There is already a shortage and he says hospitals need them first.

"Right now, if we lose our healthcare workers because they get infected trying to deliver care, we're in big trouble," he said.

How should I prepare?

Osterholm says it's a good idea to stock up on essential medication, supplies and non-perishable food, but he said the first thing everyone should do is talk to your loved ones and make a plan.

"What are they going to do if they get ill? Who will they call? How will they access the medical care system? Who is watching out for grandma?" Osterholm said. "We need, right now, to really develop communication plans so that we're checking on people every day. That's the kind of thing that's going to get us through this it's not going to be some magic bullet or the fact that we're going to be protected by masks. That's not going to happen."

Where can I go for help planning?

The University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy has resources available online to help people, businesses and healthcare providers plan for the Coronavirus. 

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KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit /coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about Minnesota specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and keep tabs on the cases around the world here. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215.