Ever-Growing Emergency: the Coronavirus Outbreak

Jake Risch, reporter

The government of Wuhan, China, published a report about what they believed to be an incident of viral pneumonia on Dec. 31. When the report from Wuhan was published, there were 27 confirmed cases of the virus. Since the report, the virus, now identified as a COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019), has spread to 35 countries, including the United States. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were more than 79,000 confirmed cases as of Feb. 13. The novel Coronavirus is causing mass panic in China, the epicenter of the pandemic, and the WHO declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern.

This Coronavirus is a part of a large family of Coronaviruses that includes viruses like the common cold, Middle-Eastern-Respiratory-Syndrome (MERS), and Severe-Acute-Respiratory-Syndrome (SARS). Coronaviruses are common zoonotic viruses, meaning they can spread from animals to humans. They are associated with symptoms such as fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. In more deadly cases of Coronavirus, patients can experience pneumonia and other respiratory complications.

More than 2,500 people have died from the Coronavirus, putting the death rate at about two and a half percent. According to the WHO, this Coronavirus is much less lethal than previous Coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, which had a mortality rate about 10 percent and 35 percent respectively. However, COVID-19 has killed more people than either virus.While most of the deaths from the Coronavirus have occured in the elderly who often had other health complications. Scientists studying the disease don’t know the extent to which age and underlying health issues have been a factor

Like other Coronaviruses, COVID-19 is likely spread through coughing and sneezing. An infected person will dispel aerosols into the air (small liquids) which can travel to others or end up on surfaces. COVID-19, like SARS and MERS, does not survive long on surfaces so it’s very unlikely to contract the virus without exposure to an infected person. The issue with COVID-19 is that the infected may be able to spread the virus before they begin to present symptoms.

COVID-19 has posed a serious issue for the Chinese government and the city of Wuhan. The Chinese government put the city of Wuhan and its surrounding areas, around 45 million people, into lockdown on Jan. 23. This lockdown has been partially effective but, due to the large amount of air and train transportation going in and out of Wuhan, approximately 5 million people were able to leave Wuhan and its surrounding areas before the lockdown went into effect. Moreover, although most major airlines are screening or stopping flights from China, 28 other countries, including the United States, have reported cases of COVID-19. 

As the coronavirus has spread the Chinese government has adopted a harsh strategy of information control. The government-controlled social media platform has removed posts about the Coronavirus and censored hashtags about the virus.

Due to China’s censorship policies along with the unpredictable nature of any virus, reporting on COVID-19 is quite difficult. The Feb. 24 WHO Situation Report confirms 79,331 cases of the virus and 2,595 deaths, however, The numbers are likely higher. It is too difficult to obtain an actual number of cases because the virus does not immediately show symptoms.

Even though the situation may seem grim, the U.S. faces little risk. As of Feb. 24 there were only 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. “I’m not really concerned about the Coronavirus,” said School Nurse Connie Hurd, adding that the risk of infection is very low if one hasn’t recently traveled to China or been around someone who has.