Former Homeland Security Adviser: Coronavirus Can Kill 10 Times More than the Flu

Melanie Arter | March 9, 2020 | 11:28am EDT
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(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

( - If health officials don’t aggressively act to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), it could spread three times more quickly, former Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopolous” on Sunday.

“There's a difficult inflection point that we’ve reached, and I think the president deserves credit for the first one. They acted quickly to contain this, but they bought us time, and now, we're at a second inflection point. And I’ll be honest -- I’m very disappointed to hear the message I just heard because it’s not about individual prevention,” he said, referring to Dr. Ben Carson’s remarks on the coronavirus.


“That’s important, and the doctor will tell you that, but as a collective public, we need to start mobilizing this collective risk mentality. People not getting sick has to do with arresting the spread of this disease. This virus is demonstrating a potential that is way more significant than the flu,” Bossert said.

"And so, when I hear people say that we're dealing with the flu or something like it, I get awfully nervous because the numbers suggest that this -- if we don't act to intervene, and interact with this disease in a way that's collectively aggressive, this disease spreads three times more quickly among a populace that doesn’t have any immunities to this virus, and it can kill 10 times more than the flu,” he said.

Stephanopolous asked whether his estimation that up to 100 million people could be affected by the coronavirus was an outlandish estimation, Bossert said, “What we want to do is make sure that we don’t make a prediction, but the potential for this virus has demonstrated that it can have 30 percent attack rate, and if you apply that to the U.S. population, that would be 100 million people infected but not sick.

“Now, that’s a terrifying number. What we’ve seen in Singapore and Hong Kong, that we can intervene and we can change that outcome. So, it's not a prediction, but that potential is dangerous, and it's important to understand it,” he said.

When asked what broader communication measure we should be considering, Bossert warned that dorm rooms and communal housing that has communal food are just like stationary cruise ships.

“Yes, George, think about that, as people think about whether they would go on a cruise ship right now, think about how you'll feel in a few weeks about going into a dorm room or some other place where there's communal food, communal housing. It looks a lot like a cruise ship, just stationary, and so we need to think about this as a -- as a means of time and planning right now,” he said.

“So I suppose I would give maybe two big messages. It's not so much that the administration is not prepared or that they haven't done the right thing. That's not accurate. We now have an inflection point we're moving forward. 

We have to message this properly to empower the state and local officials who are going to make these decisions, to make them with confidence, because if they think their populist won't follow their advice because this doesn't seem like a big event, doesn't seem like a big disease, you know, somebody told me it's like looking at star, the light that you see left that star in the past. You're not seeing what the star looks like today.

And because of that lag that you referenced, we're going to have to make decisions at state and local levels, at corporate levels, before it appears to the public that it's necessary to do so, but I assure you, it's necessary to do so early. That's the message, and it won't be a federal responsibility, it will be a joint and shared and decentralized one.


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