By CBS3 Staff


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — United States officials are sounding the alarm on the coronavirus outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the spread of the virus in the U.S. is inevitable.

The virus that started in China has now infected over 80,000 people, and killed 2,700.

There is no evidence coronavirus is currently spreading in the U.S., but health experts say it probably will and it could be bad because of how quickly it’s spreading internationally.

The CDC says Americans should brace for the likelihood that the coronavirus will spread to communities in the U.S.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Federal health officials can’t say how severe or mild the virus will be, but Americans are being warned to be ready for a significant disruption to their daily lives.

“Should you be worried? Well, I mean, worried is good in some ways because it keeps us on our toes,” said Dr. John Zurlo, division director of infectious disease at Jefferson University Hospitals. “I think it’s the same in some ways as the flu, but different in others because we don’t really understand it quite yet.”

In Italy, there was a 45% one-day increase of coronavirus. The virus has spread through Tuscany into Rome and Sicily. Tourists are trying to get out and are taking precautions.

“We’re just washing our hands,” American Rachel Eitnier said.

“You have to be careful and take care of yourself,” American Matthew Stern added.

The respiratory virus is mild for most, but has been deadly mostly to those who are most vulnerable.

“They were already sick and the coronavirus has amplified their sickness,” said Luigi D’Angelo, with the Italian Civil Protection Department.

There have been no coronavirus deaths in the U.S. The 53 confirmed cases, all in quarantine, have been linked to travel in China and Japan.

While doctors say we need to be aware and ready, perspective is important. Currently, the flu is much more widespread in the U.S. and more deadly.

“We need to be prepared because we don’t know how this is going to play out,” Zurlo said.

President Donald Trump has asked Congress for $2.5 billion to fight the spread of the illness.

Locally, air-filtering facemasks have become increasingly hard to find, businesses in Philadelphia’s Chinatown also reported a decline in customers due to stereotyping and coronavirus fears.

Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia’s health commissioner, adds the unpredictable nature of the virus means city officials are gearing up just in case.

“We are in conversation with the hospitals, for example, so that they can handle what might be an increase in patient flow,” Farley said. “We should be putting out guidance to organizations about how they can continue to operate if a number of their employees were sick at the same time.”

The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.

CBS3’s Stephanie Stahl and Alexandria Hoff contributed to this report.