The spread of the new coronavirus has created a lot of confusion, misinformation, and panic. The situation changes daily and our understanding of the disease is rapidly evolving.
Here are some things we now know about the COVID-19 coronavirus:
On average, about 5 new countries each day are reporting COVID-19 cases for the first time. The hardest hit countries so far are China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.
Worldwide cases have exceeded 100,000 and deaths worldwide are now over 3000. This suggests a mortality rate of about 3%, but that estimate is likely too high and should come down as more mild cases are identified. Sicker patients will seek care, while patients with mild symptoms may go undetected, leading to inflated mortality rates.
Even a 1% mortality rate may seem relatively safe but would place an enormous burden on hospitals, morgues and other medical services, and would be devastating to the economy. For example, in a city with a population of one million, assuming only 5% get the disease, that means 50,000 would be sick. Most (about 80%) would be mild cases, but 20% may require hospitalization. That’s 10,000 people in the hospital, and 500 deaths, possibly over a short period of time, like a few weeks. However, these calculations assume the disease spreads unchecked, which will not happen.
So far the disease appears to be most dangerous to older patients and those with chronic illnesses. Severe symptoms in children appear to be uncommon. A study in China, where the most cases are, showed that women and children were less likely to die from the virus than men. More about that here https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51774777
Public health efforts will focus on identifying cases, learning how it spreads, stopping the spread, and developing vaccines and treatments. Tests are available now, vaccines may be months away, and antivirals are being tested to see if they can help alleviate symptoms.
In the United States, there are still 2 states that have not yet started testing patients for coronavirus- Maine, and West Virginia. Some other states have only started testing in the last few days. This will likely lead to a spike in reported cases where the virus has already been spreading for days or weeks.
The best thing to do at this point is wash your hands frequently, try not to touch your face, stay at home if you are ill, seek medical care if you have flu-like symptoms (cough, fever), and stay informed.
Daily updates are available:
from the World Health Organization at https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports
or from the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins http://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/resources/COVID-19/index.html
The CDC has daily updates on coronavirus in the United States at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html#investigation