Our phones pinged simultaneously interrupting a Wednesday night binge of a Netflix crime drama.

It was an emergency alert from the Mayor of Washington DC ordering all non-essential businesses close.

It wasn't a great surprise. The neighbouring states of Maryland and Virginia had made similar announcements in the preceding days, but the fact that an alert was sent to every phone in the city at exactly the same time added to the sense of emergency.

And there were to be more alerts throughout the week.

On Friday night, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a strongly worded advisory urging any Irish citizens in the US on short-term visas who risk losing employment, financial security and access to health care to return to Ireland.

Access to healthcare, as most people are aware, is vital here in the US. If you get sick and don't have health insurance you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars for even relatively minor procedures or short hospital stays.

Even when you do have insurance, you are warned to be careful that the health facility you visit is in your insurer's network and accepts your policy. Rather than dashing to the closest hospital ER in an emergency, you are advised to call your insurer first and follow their instructions.

Unfortunately, we had to do just that last week. My six-year-old daughter fell and gave herself a nasty gash on her face that needed to be seen by a doctor. Our first visit to a US emergency room would be at the height of a global pandemic.

In the end, the whole thing was handled professionally by our insurers. We were instructed to go to a designated urgent care centre at a designated time. The Covid-19 patients were being treated in another part of the facility.

We were seen very quickly and the only reminder of the coronavirus outbreak was when the doctor complained that she had to start hiding surgical gloves because people kept stealing them.

As we left the urgent care centre I felt lucky that we had health insurance. For anyone here without such cover, it could have been a very different experience.

Hence this week's warning from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The advisory described the spread of Covid-19 in the US as becoming more serious each day, putting the population at increasing risk. 

And there were plenty of such alerts this week in the form of news updates as a grim milestone was passed in the US. America overtook China and Italy to become the country with the most confirmed cases of coronavirus.

It came as the US Congress passed a massive $2 trillion economic stimulus plan and President Trump ordered General Motors to stop making cars and start making ventilators.

All big measures but they'll do little to stop the spread of the virus here in the US which is heading towards becoming the new global epicentre of the pandemic.

We will get through this and it will eventually end, but for now we remain on high alert as we wait to see what the next emergency message to ping on our phones will be.