As the coronavirus spreads, familiar questions on emergency preparedness resurface

A woman holds a box of face masks.
A woman holds a box of face masks as people queue up waiting to purchase face masks outside a shop in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. A viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 6,000 people in the mainland and more than a dozen other countries.
Vincent Yu | AP

A new strain of the coronavirus is spreading exponentially. As of Wednesday, there are more than 6,000 confirmed cases worldwide, and more than 100 people have died.

The outbreak of the respiratory illness began in the Chinese city of Wuhan but has since traveled as far as the United States, where at least five cases have been confirmed. The World Health Organization has resisted calls to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, saying it’s too soon. But that could change, as the known infections grow.

The latest thread raises familiar questions about America’s readiness to handle a global pandemic. Wednesday, two guests joined MPR guest host Chris Farrell to discuss the virus and the state of emergency preparedness in the United States.


  • Michael Osterholm is regents professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

  • Dr. Abigail Carlson is an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

Correction (May 4, 2020): An earlier version of this post misidentified the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy as part of the University of Minnesota’s School for Public Health. The post has been updated.

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