The message regarding the coronavirus is changing.

As in, it’s not just a Far Eastern concern anymore.

Federal health officials are issuing the message that Americans need to prepare for the possibility of disruptions in normal life if the virus spreads in this country, and isn’t isolated just to those who’ve traveled to places like China, Korea and Japan and returned to the U.S.

According to National Public Radio, outbreaks of the virus in Iran and Italy, outside of the Orient, raise the likelihood of stateside outbreaks.  Travel restrictions (the Center for Disease Control advises against non-essential travel to China and South Korea), a federal quarantine and other aggressive measures have probably slowed the arrival of the coronavirus in the U.S., and precautions in the U.S. have been working, as evidenced by the low number of stateside cases (14 as of Tuesday night).

But, if it does start to spread, intrusive measures like school closings, workplace shutdowns and canceling large gatherings and public events may be needed. The Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin July 24 in Tokyo, are in unprecedented peril, although it’s possible the coronavirus could start to subside in the spring or summer.

Experts mentioned in the NPR report said the current risk still remains low, and that 80 percent of viral infections are mild, like a common cold. Hand-washing with soap and water would be the best way protect against the virus, since soap, as an abrasive, removes nearly all the infectious particles from the hands. Unlike the H1N1 flu outbreak from a couple years ago, common surgical masks won’t do much. But there’s another bit of good news: children seem less vulnerable to it. Of the 75,000 documented cases worldwide, only about 100 cases in youth have been reported. To compare, almost 100 children in the U.S. have died of the flu this year.

So, like a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, there is a coronavirus threat to the U.S., but we can’t fight it right now. It’s best to be aware it’s out there and mentally, if not physically, prepare.