January 24, 2020

KCBS Interviews Dr. Asha M. George Regarding Novel Coronavirus

On January 20, the Executive Director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, Dr. Asha M. George, was interviewed by KCBS regarding the CDC screening of airplane passengers arriving into the US from China for novel coronavirus. You can listen to the full interview above and read along using the auto-generated transcript below:

KCBS News 0:05
As the Chinese New Year travel rush begins, many are concerned about the spread of China’s fatal coronavirus. Three people in the city of Wuhan have already died from the illness with total infections totaling 217 today. For more, we’re joined on the KCBS Ring Central News Line by Dr. Asha George, public health security expert and Executive Director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Dr. Asha M. George 0:31
Thank you.

KCBS News 0:31
So the CDC is screening passengers arriving from central China to the San Francisco Airport here in the Bay Area. What led to this decision?

Dr. Asha M. George 0:41
Well, the CDC and others throughout the world have been monitoring what’s been happening in China to the extent that you can because China is rather closed about the disease events that occur within the nation. But they’ve been monitoring it and once we started to see evidence of human-to-human transmission. They decided to go ahead and put screeners in San Francisco and into other airports to up the monitoring of passengers coming from the Wuhan province into the United States.

KCBS News 1:15
And what is it exactly, this virus? It’s different from, say the flu that we’ve had here in the United States, right?

Dr. Asha M. George 1:22
That’s right. It’s different. It’s more akin to what we saw with SARS. It’s a particular type of virus. It’s called a coronavirus, which is very infectious. But the problem with this is, this particular virus does like to mutate. And it shows up every once in a while in different forms. We had SARS, a few years ago we had something called MERS, and now we have a pretty vaguely named novel coronavirus that they’re talking about. The other part that’s vague about this is, you know, the group of symptoms. A cough, a fever, some difficulty breathing, pneumonia-like symptoms. These are characteristical kinds of things. But it just warrants additional study. And frankly, people are getting ill, and the virus is spreading. The disease is spreading much quicker than you want to see, or usually see with other types of diseases.

KCBS News 2:24
So it’s highly contagious then.

Dr. Asha M. George 2:26
It seems to be, it seems to be. I think it’s also more a question of noticing that human-to-human transmission after a period in which it seemed not to be transmitting to humans, but instead was staying inside, you know, the animal reservoirs there in China.

KCBS News 2:46
So what can we do to protect ourselves from this?

Dr. Asha M. George 2:49
Well, I think there’s always a case to be made for being vigilant. We all know what it feels like to have an unusual illness. We all know how to compare say, a really terrible cough, with the common cold. I would say, particularly for those who are traveling from the Wuhan province—or were recently there or are in contact with people from there—if you’re feeling ill, you should go see your doctor. This is not the time to wait around and see what happens. But I would also say that now that we’re seeing some human-to-human transmission, we can expect that to get worse. And eventually, it will spread to other places in the world. And the notion of putting screeners at three airports won’t be particularly helpful anymore. The CDC doesn’t have enough personnel to get them all out to every airport in the United States or the world obviously. So we as the public, as the traveling public, just need to be cognizant of what’s going on. Watch for travel advisors from the CDC and just be as careful as we can.

KCBS News 4:00
As you know, airplanes are petri dishes as well. I mean is it safe to tell people not to travel to those areas?

Dr. Asha M. George 4:10
The CDC is putting out advisories and I think has said not to travel to the Wuhan province. If it were me, I would check both the CDC’s website and the State Department’s website for travel advisories about this.

KCBS News 4:24
Well, thank you so much for your advice and your insight, doctor.

Dr. Asha M. George 4:27
Thank you.

KCBS News 4:28
That’s Dr. Asha George, public health security expert and Executive Director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense as we talk about the concerns about the spread of China’s fatal coronavirus.

Transcribed by