U of M infectious disease expert: Coronavirus could ‘dwarf’ the flu

Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Diseases, Policy and Research, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the coronavirus disease is spreading quickly because it is an "airborne virus."

Osterholm said it still is good practice to wash hands and have good hygiene to help contain the virus, but the fact that it spreads through the air will make it tough to contain.

"Just breathing the air near someone who’s infected makes this challenging," Osterholm said. "It does spread through the air and so, even if you are more than 6 feet away from someone, the virus is very contagious."

Based on transmission trends in China, the virus could infect 20-60% of the U.S. population over the next 6-12 months, Osterholm said. The flu’s infection rate, he says, pales in comparison with what coronavirus could do in the long term.

"Today, people will say, ‘Well, the flu kills a lot of people,’ but by the time this one is done, it is going to dwarf the flu situation," Osterholm said.

He advised that people should use common sense and track the areas where people have tested positive for the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, before traveling or heading out to events with a lot of people.

"The truth is the more knowledge we have about how this spreads, the safer people will be," Osterholm said. "In fact, flying is maybe a little safer than people realize with the airflow systems that planes now have."

Watch the extended interview with Michael Osterholm below: