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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Public-health officials’ warnings about the coronavirus are sounding increasingly urgent, with one top CDC official asking the public yesterday "to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad."

Reality check: Other administration officials, including President Trump himself, were more subdued in their assessments. But underneath those tonal differences, the reality of the coronavirus is the same: It spreads quickly and has already spread to many countries, making it likely to start spreading here, too.

Where it stands: There are now cases piling up across Asia and into the Middle East, where it’s also spreading locally, even from people who weren’t exposed in China. As the virus itself spreads and as American travelers can encounter it in more places, the risk of a pandemic rises.

  • Financial markets are already braced for the worst; the S&P 500 fell by 3.4% yesterday as fears of the virus widened.
  • So far, though, there are only about 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus inside the U.S., and most of those people were exposed to the virus abroad.

Yes, but: There may already be more American cases than we know about. The CDC’s diagnostic tests for the virus have malfunctioned, and only about a dozen state and local health agencies even have them.

  • The CDC is working on a new one, but in the meantime, the U.S. has only tested some 426 people for the virus.
  • “We still do not know when the CDC kit replacements will come out. … It doesn’t feel like a good place to be,” Scott Becker, chief executive officer of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, told the Wall Street Journal.

You do not need to start panicking about coronavirus, at least not yet.

  • The best ways to avoid getting the coronavirus are the same things you’d do to avoid getting the flu: Wash your hands, and stay away from work, school or other crowded places if you’re sick.
  • If a pandemic does begin in the U.S., some businesses may want to embrace telework, schools may ultimately need to cancel classes, and local governments may want to reschedule large events, the CDC’s Nancy Messonnier said.
  • “I understand this situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things that people need to start thinking about now,” she said.

What’s next: The White House is asking Congress for $2.5 billion to combat the virus, though even some Republican senators were unhappy with a briefing yesterday about the federal response, per the Washington Post.

  • The National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine. That will still take a year or more, “even at rocket speed,” the NIH’s Anthony Fauci said yesterday — but the coronavirus could stick around next flu season, too.
  • Hospitals rarely keep on hand the large quantities of protective gear they’d need to deal with a pandemic. Obtaining those supplies will be another challenge.

Be smart: Public-health experts told me in the early days of the Chinese outbreak that the smart thing to do was to prepare for the worst, and now the CDC is sounding that alarm, as well.

  • There’s not much you yourself can or should do right now — but some degree of outbreak has always been pretty likely and keeps looking more likely.

Go deeper: If you’re freaking out about coronavirus but you didn’t get a flu shot, you’ve got it backwards.

Go deeper

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker