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Coronavirus: A Point in Time Report on a Rapidly-Evolving Event

The novel (new) coronavirus first sickened people in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and has now been detected in more than 50 locations internationally, including the United States.

A coronavirus is named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

How is the coronavirus spread?

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It may be possible that a person can get the coronavirus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Source and Spread of the New Coronavirus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  “coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now with this new virus” which has been named SARS-CoV-2, “and the disease it causes has been named ‘coronavirus disease 2019’ (abbreviated ‘COVID-19’).”

Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 in the community is occurring in China, and has been reported outside China, including in the United States and other locations. The CDC reports that “Imported cases of COVID-19 in travelers have been detected in the U.S. Person to person spread of COVID-19 also has been reported among close contacts of returned travelers from Wuhan… At this time, this virus is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States.”

In addition, other locations appear to have apparent community spread, meaning people have been infected but they aren’t sure how or where they became infected. One such case of COVID-19 has occurred in Vacaville, California, as confirmed by the CDC on February 25.

In January, Dr. Nancy Messonnier Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) told reporters “Moving forward, we can expect to see more cases, and more cases mean the potential for more person-to-person spread.” And on February 25 “She warned Americans that the spread of the coronavirus known as covid-19 is a matter not of if, but of when.” (This comes in  sharp contrast with President Trump’s media statement on February 27 that ”It’s going to disappear one day. It will be like a miracle. It will disappear.”)

Worldometer, which aggregates statistics from health agencies across the world, the total number of COVID-19 cases world-wide is over 92,000. In the United States there are currently 108 cases, with 6 deaths.

Is this a pandemic?

According to the CDC, “The fact that this disease has caused illness, including illness resulting in death, and sustained person-to-person spread is concerning. These factors meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer toward meeting the third criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus.”

How well is the United States prepared for a COVID-19 outbreak?

According to Laurie Garrett, former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer, “Building on the Ebola experience, the Obama administration set up a permanent epidemic monitoring and command group inside the White House National Security Council (NSC) and another in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—both of which followed the scientific and public health leads of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the diplomatic advice of the State Department.”

But that’s all gone now.

In the spring of 2018, the White House pushed Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs, proposing to eliminate $252 million in previously committed resources for rebuilding health systems in Ebola-ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Under fire from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump dropped the proposal to eliminate Ebola funds a month later. But other White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. And the government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.

What is my risk of contracting COVID-19?

Most people have little or no immunity because they have no previous exposure to this new virus or even similar viruses. So individual risk is dependent on exposure. According to the CDC:

For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.

Under current circumstances, certain people will have an increased risk of infection, for example healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 and other close contacts of persons with COVID-19.

“However, it’s important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. In that case, the risk assessment would be different.”

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

For confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. Symptoms can include:



-Shortness of breath

CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV-CoV viruses.

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?

Currently there is neither vaccine nor treatment for COVID-19. While a number vaccines are in the development and testing phases, none will be available for 12 to 18 months, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the CDC.

Will the flu shot protect me from the coronavirus?

A flu shot will not prevent you from contracting the coronavirus, however “It is possible that the coronavirus, by injuring lung cells, can make it easier for pneumonia to take hold in people who also get the flu or bacterial pneumonia,” said Dr. Trish Perl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/25/health/prepare-for-coronavirus.html

So it is advised that you get both the flu and the pneumonia vaccines.

How to Prevent Infection

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However the CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

-Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Put distance, 6 feet or more, between you and a person showing symptoms.

-Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

-Stay home when you are sick.

-Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

-Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

-Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.

CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.

Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Don’t miss the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

How to Prepare for a COVID-19 Outbreak

It would be sensible to have a supply of food staples and medications.

“Don’t wait until the last minute to refill your prescriptions,” says Dr. Marguerite Neill, an infectious disease expert at Brown University. “You want to comfortably have at least a 30-day supply.”

Make sure you have essential household supplies, too, like laundry detergent, and if you have small children, diapers, perhaps enough for a month.

Bookmark the website of your local health department so you will have a reliable source of news.

Parents may want to contact their child’s school to learn how plans for early dismissals or online instruction would be implemented. People with elderly parents or relatives should have a plan for caring for them if they fall ill.

A Comment

It is of grave concern that the White House continues to give false statements regarding COVID-19. Among these the President has said that COVID-19 is less lethal than the common flu. This is dead wrong. The mortality rate of COVID-19, which has been observed to be 2%, is not less than the seasonal influenza’s mortality rate in the U.S. of less than 0.1%.

This is not a political issue. It is a public health issue.

The first move of Vice President Mike Pence, after the announcement by President Trump that he would coordinate the government’s response to the public health threat, was “aimed at preventing the kind of conflicting statements that have plagued the administration’s response.

The latest instance occurred Thursday evening, when the president said that the virus could get worse or better in the days and weeks ahead, but that nobody knows, contradicting Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, one of the country’s leading experts on viruses and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.” Since then “Dr. Fauci has told associates that the White House had instructed him not to say anything else without clearance.”

For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and Johns Hopkins real-time map of the virus.