Foundation steps in to help CDC fight coronavirus

The CDC Foundation has launched an emergency response fund to help the CDC address the novel coronavirus, a respiratory illness that has sickened more than 6,000 people in China and reached the United States and other countries.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has contributed $1 million to kick off that fund-raising effort, which started this week.

The CDC Foundation, which supports the work of the Atlanta-based public health agency, has a history of raising funds in emergency situations, including for hurricane recovery and outbreaks such as Ebola. The foundation can deliver money faster than the CDC can gain through a congressional budget appropriation.

The novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly in China, and has now been reported in the United States (with five confirmed cases) and several other nations. The death toll has risen to 132 in China, with 6,078 confirmed cases of infection.

Health officials believe the outbreak originated in a large animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China.

Funds raised by the Atlanta-based CDC Foundation will go to support state and local health departments, and to provide help for the global response, logistics, communications, data management, personal protective equipment, supplies and other items.

Dr. Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the foundation, said Wednesday that the CDC recently asked her organization to activate its own emergency response fund.

The foundation will provide funds for the CDC to spend as it sees fit. “It’s really important for the CDC to access flexible resources,’’ Monroe said.


During the Ebola outbreak that began in 2014, the CDC Foundation raised $56 million for needs that the health agency identified, which included providing supplies and equipment for use on the ground in West Africa, where the deadly disease was centered. Contributions to such funding are made by philanthropies, businesses and individuals.

Foundation funds are essential to address rapidly evolving situations where speed and flexibility are paramount to saving and protecting lives, Monroe said.

Transmitted between people

Named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces, coronaviruses infect mostly bats, pigs and small mammals. Seven strains are known to infect humans, including this new virus, causing illnesses in the respiratory tract, the Wall Street Journal reported. Two strains rank among the deadliest of human infections: SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.

The latest illness has struck people who did not visit mainland China during the outbreak, with patients falling ill in Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam, the New York Times reported. The overseas cases highlight the ability of the mysterious disease to be transmitted from one person to another, increasing its chances of spreading.

The U.S. government and other governments have airlifted their citizens out of Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Wednesday that it had 165 people in the U.S. under investigation for coronavirus. In addition to the 5 confirmed positive, 68 have tested negative. The agency is prioritizing the testing based on a person’s risk.

Messonnier said earlier this week that the agency had posted the blueprints for its diagnostic test on a public server and was working “as fast as we can” to get test kits out to states.

Right now, all the testing for the new coronavirus is taking place at the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The symptoms of the disease are similar to those of the flu, including fever and respiratory illness. Experts say a vaccine for the virus is still a long way off.

Dr. Marshall Lyon, an infectious disease expert at Emory University School of Medicine, said Wednesday that health officials need a better way to detect coronavirus cases.

The current test takes several hours, so the CDC has prioritized the testing for people who show symptoms and have traveled to China recently, Lyon said. “If this outbreak continues, we may see better diagnostics.’’

From WebMD

When a case is suspected, the person is isolated in a hospital to minimize spread of the disease, he said.

From what’s known so far, the coronavirus appears more deadly than the flu, Lyon said. But right now in this country, the flu is a much bigger public health problem, he added. “The novel coronavirus, at the present, is a very low threat in the U.S.’’

Lyon said the CDC Foundation funds “can be effective in meeting emerging public health needs.’’

Contributions to the CDC Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund can be made on the foundation’s website (donate here) or by phone or mail. To discuss giving opportunities for giving or making an in-kind donation, contact Advancement at the CDC Foundation: by email at or 404.653.0790, toll-free at 888-886-4CDC.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said this week that it’s evaluating patient information received from health care providers about potential cases of the coronavirus. To date, DPH has not confirmed any cases in Georgia.

Health officials are screening passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and other major U.S. airports.

Public Health says the public should follow the advice given during a cold and flu season: Wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, and stay away from people who are sick.

If you have traveled from Wuhan City, China, into the United States and you have symptoms consistent with the coronavirus (runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, a general feeling of being unwell), seek advice from a health care provider, officials say.