'Aggressive' cancellations necessary to overcome Trump's early inaction on coronavirus: Public health expert
Vau de Vire Society girls at Burning Man 2010 (Flickr/Neil Girling)

A public health expert warned that coronavirus would soon swamp the nation's health care system unless events are canceled and changes are made to daily routines to prevent the spread of the potentially deadly virus.

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the next two weeks would be crucial in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

"Let's look at even where we were two weeks ago," Wen said. "Two weeks ago we had 15 cases that were diagnosed in the U.S. -- we now have over a thousand. That number is going to escalate dramatically in the next two weeks."

The physician called for cancellations and self-quarantines to halt the spread of the outbreak before it became a pandemic.

"The responsible thing for to us do now is to cancel events, it's to practice this social distancing and do whatever we can knowing that it's going to be hard," she said. "It will be hard when schools get canceled. It will be hard when all these large events get canceled, with huge business consequences, but if we don't do that, what's going to happen is that we'll have so many cases come up at the same time that it will overwhelm our ability and hospitals to treat patients, and then patients with heart attacks and strokes and trauma are not going to get treated, either, and people are going to die."

Wen said state and local officials -- and individuals themselves -- must make these decisions without guidance from the Trump administration.

"It's up to all of us to cancel events, not go to large crowded events ourselves and really take this extremely seriously, even if the federal government is putting out muddled messaging," she said. "We need to be doing the right thing for our communities."

Wen urged aggressive action now, to make up for a lack of urgency from President Donald Trump and his administration when the virus first arrived in the U.S.

"If we had done more in weeks before, we wouldn't be where we are now," she said. Now we have to look forward and we have to do more, but that's why we cannot be afraid, and it will be up to local and state governments. The CDC provides guidance, but ultimately a lot of decisions are made at the local level, and our local leaders have to be unafraid to tell the truth, to communicate honestly and to do the right thing."

She warned individuals who may have come into contact with the coronavirus to stay away from hospitals, where its spread could be devastating to other patients.

"Most people who get coronavirus, COVID-19, will have mild symptoms, 80 percent will have mild symptoms that do not require hospital care," she said. "Those people should recover at home and not even set foot in a hospital, and that's the so-called worried well, too -- people who may not have coronavirus but are worried about it. The key is don't go to the ER, don't good to the hospital if you are not going to already. If you're having trouble breathing, if you need hospital care, call your doctor and then go to the hospital, but otherwise stay at home and recover."

The U.S. health care system simply can't handle a large-scale outbreak, Wen said.

"My fear is that even if we have a moderate outbreak here in the U.S., we're going to need something like 200,000 intensive care beds," Wen said. "The U.S. only has 100,000 intensive care beds at any point in time, so we could easily overwhelm the health care system. So don't go to the hospital unless you're really ill, and we have to try to reduce the rate of infection so that hopefully we can spread it out and not overwhelm the system all at the same time. We could even delay it long enough until we can have a vaccine or treatment which we don't have now."