By: Malkie Rubin  | 

Pandemic: The Coronavirus is Here to Stay For Now

Over the past two months, the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has spiraled out of control. Increasingly, people outside of China, where the virus originated, have started to display its symptoms. In response, countries around the world have imposed travel bans, quarantining millions and isolating hundreds of sick people in an attempt to stop the spread of the new virus. However, as of Feb. 23, 2020, there were 78,000 cases of COVID-19 in at least 29 countries, including a spike of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea, as well as an ongoing outbreak on a cruise ship off of Japan. We are likely facing a pandemic or may already be experiencing one. The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Our window of opportunity [for containing the virus] is narrowing so we need to act quickly before it closes completely.” 

Other public health experts think that the window has already closed. They fear that new developments in this outbreak suggest that containing the virus may no longer be possible. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, remarked that once several countries have widespread transmission, spillover into other countries is inevitable. One of the top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans on Feb. 25 that health experts foresee the novel coronavirus that has killed thousands spreading in the United States. “We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”  On Feb. 25, Trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the Coronavirus response.

Public health officials must accept the fact that the coronavirus has already spread, and need to move into a new phase of preparing for a pandemic.

What makes the coronavirus so contagious is that it spreads by human to human transmission, just as easily as the flu. As a result, once a few humans become infected with the virus, the chances that others will come in contact with an infected person increase rapidly. Symptoms of the coronavirus include coughing, fever and shortness of breath. At this point, the outbreak could continue spreading at a rapid pace, moving into new regions and across the globe quite quickly, given the increasing mobility and travel within and between societies today. 

As of Feb. 23, there have been more than 1,800 reported cases of COVID-19 outside of China in at least 29 countries. South Korea has now reported the most cases of the coronavirus outside of China, with 602. The country’s president, Moon Jae-in, has put South Korea on its highest level alert over the outbreak, giving cities the ability to impose their own containment measures. Italy is also “now home to the biggest COVID-19 outbreak outside of Asia.” So far, 132 people have confirmed infections, including at least two deaths. Italy has imposed severe measures to try and stop the spread of the virus. Sporting, religious and cultural events are being canceled as well as university classes. Many people have been fined if they tried to enter or leave areas where the outbreak is present, including 11 towns in the Lombardy region.

There are many reasons as to why we may soon see a rapid rise in infections. One is that the virus is very contagious and some people can infect others before they start to show symptoms or very early in their illness. Researchers currently believe that one infected person generally infects two to more than three others, which would make the COVID-19 more contagious than other coronaviruses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). When people began to show symptoms of the SARS virus, they were immediately isolated, and those they were in contact with were traced and isolated, leading the virus to be contained. However, since the spread of COVID-19 is similar to how influenza spreads, it is very hard — if not impossible — to trace every single person that an infected person had been in contact with and quarantine them before they spread the virus. 

Another reason the coronavirus is turning into a pandemic is that countries are still only looking for the disease in people who have traveled from China. But the virus has already spread beyond this region. Diagnostic testing should be conducted on citizens from other countries, including Iran, Italy and South Korea. Even though the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains that the risk of spread of the coronavirus is low, it is beginning to change its screening strategy to look for people with the virus who are not necessarily traveling from China. The CDC will begin to use the national flu surveillance tracking infrastructure to test patients who have flu symptoms for COVID-19 in five cities across the United States. 

Currently, the coronavirus has a very low fatality rate, namely, around 1 to 2 percent. However, that small percentage can cause many deaths if COVID-19 continues to spread around the world. Public health experts say that countries need to move from trying to contain the virus to mitigating its harm through reducing the spread by teaching people proper hygienic practices and caring for the very sick. Recent outbreaks in Germany, France and the U.K. demonstrate that high-income countries with advanced medical resources may be able to control the virus spread, at least for now. However, as the virus moves around the world and there are increasingly more infections, even high-income countries are likely to struggle with containing the virus. We have to prepare for this and quickly, for a pandemic that could spread across the world.

However, our systems are better prepared to protect than ever before. Although the CDC does not currently recommend the use of face masks for the general public, they recommend that the sick or non-hospitalized patients under investigation wear masks when around other people. Health care personnel should wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including respirators, when caring for confirmed or possible COVID-19 patients. As of now, the possibility of contracting the virus in America is still very low. The best way to prevent contracting the virus would be to maintain proper handwashing hygiene, avoid traveling outside the country — especially to China — and for people to cover their mouths when they cough. These safety precautions can minimize risk if the virus starts to spread throughout the United States; following them is the best way to protect you and your family from the coronavirus. 

Photo Caption: The coronavirus has already spread to multiple countries across the world. 
Photo Credit: Pixabay