The news out of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus, continues to raise concern as the numbers of the infected and death toll rise.
The reported infections and deaths from the Coronavirus have jumped dramatically in China and they continue to change by the hour. As of February 24, 2020 more than 79,000 people have been infected globally (most of them in China) and the recent death toll has risen to over 2,600. However, it’s worth noting the number of recoveries currently outstrips the number of deaths, with over 26,000 people reported recovered.
CAN’T BE CONTAINED
Officials from the US government’s Centers for Disease Control has asked Americans to start preparing for the Coronavirus to begin spreading in the United States.
During a media briefing on February 25th, Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC had this to say about the possibility of the Coronavirus spreading in the United States of America: “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
The government’s Centers For Disease Control’s representative even went a step further saying, “We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”
This week the Trump administration requested $2.5 billion to combat the virus from Congress. That amount would come in the form of $1.25 billion in emergency funds and another $1.25 billion diverted from other Federal programs.
When it comes to an outbreak, containment is the first response. If whatever sickness can be kept to a small area, then the chances of eradicating it multiply tenfold. So, when Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch spoke with the Atlantic, he can be forgiven if it took him a couple tries to fully state his thoughts. It boiled down to this, “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.” The numbers are beginning to prove this true. To date, 37 countries have been affected with COVID-19, the coronavirus.
The Chinese government has been under much political pressure to stop the virus, so much so that they are sending officials door-to-door in the Hubei province, testing people and looking for signs of illness. Is this a case of too little, too late? Lipsitch thinks so. He is predicting that within the coming year, 40 to 70 percent of people in the world will have become infected with the virus that causes this strain of the coronavirus.
Lipsitch did stress, though, that it doesn’t mean those 40 to 70 percent will have the severe illness. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he told The Atlantic. Most people get though influenza without much issue. Many of those who take a turn for the worse are typically those with chronic health issues or older people.
And Lipsitch isn’t alone among his epidemiologist peers in their belief that this coronavirus will continue to spread wide scale. As quick as this is to spread and as serious as it has shown to be, the prevailing thought is that cold and flu season could easily turn into cold, flu and COVID-19 season.
So is there a chance for Coronavirus containment? At the rate it’s moving, maybe not. But the only way we will know how widespread it is becoming is by testing. When the outbreak first started, U.S. doctors had been advised to only test those who had traveled to China or had come in contact with a person who had been diagnosed with the virus.
Lipsitch says testing is the key. “Two hundred cases of a flu-like illness during flu season—when you’re not testing for it—is very hard to detect,” Lipsitch said. “But it would be really good to know sooner rather than later whether that’s correct, or whether we’ve miscalculated something. The only way to do that is by testing.”
Coronavirus In China
More than 79,000 people are now known to be infected with the Coronavirus and most of them are in China and mostly in that country’s Wuhan province. Experts believe that the number of infected there may actually be much higher than reported. At this point hospitals in Wuhan are totally overwhelmed and people may be showing up to hospitals, find they are unable to get in, and then go home without being examined to determine if they have it.
The reported death toll worldwide is 2,600 and the number of known recoveries is at 26,000. Again, almost all of those are in China and there too, the numbers may actually be much higher since people are giving up on going to hospitals and simply staying home.
In response to the outbreak China has introduced massive restrictions on travel and everything in the Wuhan province is locked down. People aren’t leaving their homes and streets are totally deserted. They look like this…
At this point travel in and out of China is totally restricted and other countries are rushing to get their citizens out of Wuhan. When citizens of other countries return home they are treated to quarantines and inspections. In Indonesia they’re even going so far as to do this…
Rumors leaking out of China seem to indicate that their healthcare system is reaching the point where it can no longer handle the number of people needing treatment. One Hong Kong Twitter user posted a video which they claim shows dead bodies laying on the streets. Here it is..
Dr. Li Wenliang
The WHO says that the first Chinese doctor to try and raise the alarm about the disease has now himself, died from the Coronavirus. The doctor was initially reprimanded by the Chinese police for posting false information on the internet. His name was Dr. Li Wenliang and he was only 34-years-old.
People around the world, but particularly in China are morning his death. There, they paid tribute to Dr. Wenliang this way…
Others in Wuhan shouted from their apartments where they’re locked in, just to give each other encouragement…
TRACKING CORONAVIRUS LIVE
The situation with the Coronavirus seems to be changing minute by minute. With news media outlets hungry to cash in on people’s fears, it can be difficult to keep track. There’s a solution.
In order to try and help people keep track of what’s real, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering in Maryland has put together an online dashboard which uses live information from official sources to track the virus worldwide. It looks like this…
…and you can use it in real-time right here.
One of the best things about the Dashboard is that not only does it track the number of reported cases and the number of deaths, but it tracks the number of people who have recovered from the virus.
Coronavirus In The United States
On January 30, 2020 the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the first case of Coronavirus in the United States to have been transmitted by human-to-human contact. Since then the numbers have continued to rise until the current total in the US stands at 12.
The first 5 cases of Coronavirus in the United States were all from people returning to the country from China. This sixth person got the virus in the United States, contracting it from her husband (who was one of the 5).
On January 28, 2020 the Center For Disease Control in the United States issued a travel advisory warning US citizens to avoid travel to China. Their statement is as follows…
“CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China. In response to an outbreak of respiratory illness, Chinese officials have closed transport within and out of Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province, including buses, subways, trains, and the international airport. Additional restrictions and cancellations of events may occur. There is limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas.”– -January 28, 2020 CDC Travel Advisory
Only a week earlier the CDC issued a travel advisory recommending US citizens avoid traveling to the Wuhan region of China. But now that advisory has been upgraded to recommend avoiding travel to the entire country.
The numbers change hourly and not in a positive fashion, so how worried should we be here in the United States? With the 12 cases of the Coronavirus confirmed, the worry here shouldn’t be too high, at least not yet. The CDC came out with these numbers: 63 patients in 22 states are being investigated for the virus with another 11 having tested negative for it.
Across the globe, cases are being seen. As of February 6, France has confirmed 6 cases. Australia has 14, Germany 12, Canada 5.
Those might sound like big numbers, but for context let’s compare that to the common flu. In 2019 39,000 people in the United States were hospitalized with the Flu. 2,100 people died. That’s a rate not all that dissimilar to what we’re seeing from the Wuhan Coronavirus right now, though the numbers may continue to get a lot worse.
The Latest From The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization has declared the Coronavirus a global emergency. Other events that have triggered the WHO to declare a global emergency include the 2009 swine flu, the 2016 Zika virus, and the 2019 outbreak of Ebola. It’s worth noting that all of these situations ended up being contained and never actually became a global problem, which suggests that even though the WHO has declared a global health emergency there’s no cause for panic or even immediate concern.
The WHO is always the first line of defense against real epidemics and on Wednesday, January 29th they went live to address the current state of the Coronavirus and their response. Here’s their full press conference…
During the press conference the WHO’s Dr. Mike Ryan said that the Chinese response to the Coronavirus is on a scale he’s never seen before. However transmission rates in provinces outside the Wuhan area, where the virus originated, are less intense.
WHAT IS A CORONAVIRUS?
Coronaviruses are not new. They were first identified in the early 1960s and they spread like most viruses, through coughing and sneezing, from contact with an infected person’s face or hands, from touching things that infected people have touched.
They can cause an upper respiratory infection with symptoms like a stuffy nose, sore throat and cough. Sometimes a coronavirus will cause middle ear infections among children. But because a coronavirus is similar to any other upper respiratory infection, you may never know if you’ve got it.
The danger with a coronavirus is when it spreads to your lower respiratory tract, which would be the windpipe and lungs. When it does, it can cause pneumonia, especially in those with heart disease, in older people, and those with weakened immune systems.
For the most part, a coronavirus is not serious. For the most part. In 2003, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak killed nearly 800 across the globe. The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) appeared in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, then spread to other middle eastern countries, Africa, Asia, and Europe. It was the cause of nearly 860 deaths.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) identified the Wuhan virus as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. When it was first diagnosed, many patients had some link to a large seafood and animal market, which suggested the virus was an animal-to-person spread. Recently, though, many more infected have reported zero contact with seafood or animal markets which now suggests that the virus is spread person-to-person.
Animal-to-person, person-to-person? The virus had to start somewhere, somehow. Virologists are working tirelessly to pin down the source of the virus and the thought now is that snakes could be the possible source. The first infected were workers or customers at the Wuhan market but since aquatic animals have never been found to carry a coronavirus, virologists are now looking at the other animals sold within the market.
As they studied the genetic code of 2019-nCov, they found it closely resembled two bat SARS-like coronaviruses from China. This first suggested that bats were the source of the new virus. But as they further studied the virus, it was compared to coronaviruses from different animal hosts such as birds, marmots, manis, hedgehogs, snakes, and humans, they were surprised to find that the protein codes in this new virus most closely resembled those found in snakes.
In the wild, snakes typically hunt for bats. This is the theory on how it reached humans as the Wuhan market has been reported to have sold snakes. Another mystery scientists are trying to solve is how this virus could adapt to both warm-blooded and cold-blooded hosts.
EPIDEMIC VS. PANDEMIC
The concern for this new coronavirus is real. The numbers continue to rise and the spread is slowly reaching other parts of the globe. Are we at epidemic proportions? How close are we to a pandemic? For now, it looks to be considered an epidemic as 2019 n-CoV is mainly centered around the city of Wuhan. But Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a warning, saying that the situation is grave and that the spread of the virus is accelerating. The appearance of the virus in other countries is becoming quite worrisome.
WHAT IN THE WORLD?
What are we, what is the world, doing about this outbreak? Airport health screenings, for one. What is making this task somewhat difficult is the fact that this is China’s busiest travel period with the Lunar New Year and Spring Festival underway. Estimates are at hundreds of millions of Chinese who travel during this period, which runs from January 10 through February 18.
In the city of Wuhan, Chinese officials have installed infrared thermometers at the airport, train stations, passenger piers, and coach terminals to measure temperatures of departing passengers. Officials are also encouraging travelers going to and from Wuhan to change their travel plans to help lessen the spread of the virus.
In the U.S., health screenings at airports have increased. In fact, those passengers coming in from Wuhan are being routed to one of five airports, regardless of their final destination. These airports are John F. Kennedy in New York, Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Thailand is a popular destination for Chinese travelers. The international airports in cities such as Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, and Chiang Mai have increased their screenings and not only from Wuhan passengers but also passengers arriving from Shenzhen and Beijing.
Japan, Singapore, and Australia have also increased screenings.
Hong Kong has taken things much further, not wanting to take any chances. They have declared a citywide emergency, canceling all their official Chinese New Year events and have extended their school break until February 17.
CAN ANYTHING BE DONE?
So far, there is no vaccine for this virus. Most of its victims have been on the older side (over 50) and have had respiratory issues in the past. Even though the U.S. has not seen an outbreak of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends the everyday actions to prevent the contraction or spread of this virus. These include hand washing, avoid touching eyes, mouth and nose with unwashed hands, avoid close contact with sick people, stay home if you are sick, cover your cough or sneeze with your arm or tissue and then dispose of the tissue after its use, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are frequently touched.
As previously mentioned, the numbers concerning the virus change frequently. Their appearance across the globe also changes frequently. As the numbers come in, we will be sure to update.