Written by Charlotte Mac Kay
Since its emergence in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei, China in December 2019, the pneumonia-like coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread rapidly throughout the globe. This has caused media-hysteria in the U.S. The John Hopkins Medical Center infectious disease tracker reports over 98,000 confirmed cases, with 3,335 deaths throughout the world as of March 5.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus which has now spread to over 70 locations, including several states within the United States. The disease, which displays flu-like symptoms such as coughing, fever and shortness of breath, is most dangerous for the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently places the death rate at 3.4%, increasing previous estimates of 2%, though they caution that percentages this early in the spread will often be higher than reality due to milder cases being ignored.
The largest percentage of confirmed cases and fatalities have been in China, Iran, South Korea and Italy, which account for 80% of total reports. As the virus spreads, countries throughout the world have begun safety and health measures, quarantining travelers from hot zones, allotting medical funds and emphasizing the spread of information on healthy preventative habits. Italy shut down all schools and colleges in the country on Wednesday, March 4 while China and others have placed bans on large public gatherings, such as sporting events in Italy and some prayer gatherings in Iran.
The earliest case in the U.S. was confirmed near Seattle, Washington in late February. As of March 5, there have been 233 cases throughout the country, culminating in 12 deaths and affecting states such as Washington, New York, California, Texas and Massachesseuts. With the comparatively low number of infected, health officials say that the “overall risk to the general public remains low” and encourages caution and alertness. To contain the disease, health experts and organizations recommend precautions similar to those of the flu, including washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and avoiding contact with people who have flu-like symptoms.
The U.S. government is preparing for the virus to spread by taking precautions to assure hospitals are fully equipped. In a statement on Wednesday, Trump said that “Additional cases in the United States are likely. But healthy individuals should be able to fully recover.” To support the expected future cases, the House of Representatives passed a bi-partisan bill on March 4 allotting $8.3 billion to the prevention and treatment of the virus, while international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the WHO have all allocated international funds to handle the global outbreak, which is not yet considered a pandemic.
However, as health officials and the general public prepare for increased spread of the disease, medical supplies such as face masks and hand sanitizer are in short supply. The WHO released a warning on medical shortages, urging healthy individuals to avoid stocking up on essential supplies. Dr. Tedros Adhanon, the director general at WHO, said that “Without secure supply chains, the risk to health care workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding.” As the virus continues to spread in the initial phase, health organizations emphasize medical supply will continue to be taxed as manufacturing companies struggle to keep up with high demand.
As the situation currently stands, the coronavirus is not a global pandemic and, according to the CDC, most people in the US have “little immediate risk of exposure.” Beyond taking healthy precautions, and avoiding unnecessary consumption of essential supplies, government officials urge citizens to remain calm and avoid spreading unnecessary hysteria.