The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. will likely rise, despite “extreme measures” taken by the federal government, said National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, one of the country’s top-ranked officials focused on scientific research.
All in all, Collins downplayed the immediate threat to Americans, citing the so far limited spread of the virus in the U.S.
“I think at the present time, there is no reason for considerable anxiety in America,” he says. “Americans ought to be a lot more worried about the flu than they are about coronavirus.”
As of Tuesday, when Yahoo Finance taped the interview with Collins, health officials had confirmed 11 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. — a small fraction of the tens of thousands of cases worldwide, which have resulted in nearly 500 deaths. A day later, officials discovered a 12th case, the first in Wisconsin.
“I'd be very surprised if 11 is the total that we're going to have,” Collins told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in the newly released interview. “I mean, there are people right now being investigated, most of them people who have been to China and are back and maybe starting to feel poorly.”
“Most of those will turn out to be something else, but there will be potentially other cases,” said Collins, who has led the National Institutes of Health since 2009.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 293 people under investigation for the coronavirus in 36 states as of Wednesday. Among them, 206 were negative and 76 are still pending.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Americans who had been in Wuhan — the Chinese city where the outbreak emerged — arrived in California on flights coordinated by the U.S. government. The individuals were subjected to tests and days of quarantine, as were others brought from the region last week.
“We are doing rather extreme measures to try to isolate individuals who are coming from China and make sure that those who are already identified as infected are not infecting others,” Collins says. “Everybody hopes that will be sufficient,” he adds.
Collins made the comments during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
As director of the National Institutes of Health, Collins leads the largest funder of medical research in the world with a budget of $42 billion. His tenure has spanned 11 years and two presidents — Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Prior to his current post, Collins served as director of the National Center for Human Genome Research Institute, where his work helped map the human genome.
Collins said the ongoing outbreak in China remains his primary source of worry, though the ultimate outcome for the U.S. is unknown.
“The concern, of course, is in China, where this is spreading very rapidly,” he says. “It is impossible to say, however, exactly what the next few weeks will hold for America.”
Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.