A public health official in Milwaukee says the novel coronavirus has become a larger part of the planning process for the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
“From our plan meetings to the exercises we’re conducting around preparedness for the event, this is a valuable conversation that’s entering into things,” said Dr. Nick Totaro, city preparedness coordinator in charge of DNC preparations. “It’s already entered into the planning process, but now it’s a big focus.”
More than 50,000 visitors are expected for this summer’s event, taking place in mid-July.
At a panel discussion hosted this week in Milwaukee, Totaro said a dozen city health and medical workers are working with the various subcommittees in charge of planning the event. Conversations are also ongoing between state and local health officials, he noted.
In response to an audience question about the virus’ potential impact on the event, he was hesitant to make a firm prediction but acknowledged the situation could worsen.
“Obviously, there’s not a way to describe to you how the COVID-19 virus could affect the Democratic National Convention at this point,” he said. “We could be in a situation where if there was a significant outbreak, that it could alter the convention significantly.”
Still, he said “to speculate on that, I don’t think is a really good practice right now.”
Another panelist was hopeful that seasonal changes could help reduce potential impacts during the summer.
“This is a respiratory virus, and traditionally our respiratory season is between October and April. So it’s a winter virus,” said Sanjib Bhattacharyya, laboratory director and special deputy health commissioner for Milwaukee’s health department. “Not that I’m trying to minimize the risk associated with that — it could go up disproportionately.”
The number of coronavirus cases has continued to increase around the globe, though most of the 80,000 cases are still in China. Over 2,800 people have died from the new virus, but panelists noted that pales in comparison to the number of influenza deaths this flu season in the United States alone, which was over 16,000 at last count.
At least 60 U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed, but Bhattacharyya expects the warming weather will help keep that number low.
“I think there’s a good chance that this limited incident and spread of the virus, that we can contain it in the United States,” he said.
Jennifer Miller, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health Services, says Wisconsin officials are actively monitoring the coronavirus outbreak ahead of the convention. One patient in the state has the virus, and 16 others have tested negative.
“We don’t know exactly what the trend will be for this disease by the DNC in July, but we will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and support national coordinated efforts to keep Wisconsinites and our visitors safe and healthy,” she said in an email.
See more from DHS on the virus: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/disease/covid-19.htm