According to a director at the CDC, the coronavirus epidemic has reached two of the three factors of a pandemic.

The World Health Organization on Friday increased its coronavirus risk assessment to “very high” as cases outside of China continue to increase. But officials caution the virus can still be contained if the chain of transmission can be broken.

“We are on the highest level of alert or highest level of risk assessment in terms of spread and in terms of impact,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program. He said the designation was not meant to alarm or scare people, but to alert every country to be vigilant.

“This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready,” he said. “This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready.”

At the same time, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, noted that most cases can still be traced to known contacts or clusters of cases.

“We do not see evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities,” he said. “As long as that’s the case, we still have a chance of containing this coronavirus, if robust action is taken to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients and trace contacts.”

Meanwhile, more than 20 vaccines are being developed worldwide with results from clinical trials expected in a few weeks, he said.

The coronavirus outbreak has infected more than 83,000 people and killed nearly 3,000 people globally as of Friday morning.

China, though hardest hit, has seen lower numbers of new infections, with 327 additional cases reported Friday, bringing the country’s total to 78,824. South Korea has recorded 2,337 cases, the most outside of China.

State Department, CDC: Avoid or reconsider travel to Italy

On Friday, both the State Department and CDC elevated their travel advisories after the number of cases in that country more than doubled over the course of one week, increasing from 270 to 655.

The CDC raised Italy to level 3 (“Avoid non-essential travel – widespread community transmission”), its most severe warning, noting that “older adults and people with chronic medical conditions may be at increased risk for severe disease.”

The State Department raised its Italy advisory one step to its second-highest level, 3 (“Reconsider travel”).

– Jayme Deerwester

CDC gives OK for states to test

In the U.S., Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Friday that the CDC has determined that state and local health officials can go ahead and use testing kits initially believed to be inadequate. She said the CDC has since determined that despite missing one of three components, the kits are sufficient for accurate testing and will serve as the model of new kits.

“Labs can start testing with existing CDC test kits … This will increase testing capacity at state and local health departments,” she said. “Additionally, CDC has manufactured brand new test kits.”

She said thee CDC was moving “as quickly as possible” to get kits to state and local authorities.

– Doug Stanglin

Dow reels as virus anxiety grows

U.S. stocks tumbled further Friday, deepening this week’s global rout on fears that a deadly virus in China is spreading.

The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 900 points shortly after the opening bell, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 slid 2.5%. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.7%.

The Dow plummeted nearly 1,200 points on Thursday – its biggest one-day point drop ever – on rising anxiety over the outbreak. Thursday’s losses put the blue-chip average into a correction – a decline of 10% from a recent high – for the first time since December 2018.

The S&P 500 fell 4.4% Thursday, down 12% from its Feb. 19 all-time high. Following Thursday’s losses, the Dow and S&P 500 were down more than 10.5% so far this week, heading for their worst weekly performance since the financial crisis in 2008.

– David Brinkherhoff