Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Covid-19 or Coronavirus as many know it, originated in the city of Wuhan in China. As of 2/12/2020 the virus has infected over 60000 people, killed over 1300 and over 8000 are in critical condition. It is important to note that these official numbers are low as they are only able to count the people who they were able to test and who died at the hospital. The virus has overrun China’s healthcare system and the majority of those infected are either in their homes or in a quarantine camp. Just like the majority of infected, the majority of people who have died have done so at home. China has implemented a law stating that all bodies must be burned immediately with no investigation or services. Though we don’t have an exact number of people who have died, we know that the crematoriums in both Wuhan and the entire province of Hubei are running 24/7 and are still running behind. The situation has become so dire that residents suspected of being infected are being sealed into their homes to try and stop the spread.
The virus has spread all over the world including the US, the UK, Australia and many more. A total of 28 countries have reported infections. There are currently 1000 people in self quarantine in L.A. county and thousands more are quarantined in military bases and hospitals around the US. So far there have been 14 confirmed cases in the US but due to the nature of the virus, the CDC expects that a great deal more are currently infected.
The virus is novel, it has never been seen before. It is a member of the coronavirus family but is unlike the others in several key ways. It has a long incubation period that is variable. Some show symptoms in as little as 5 days, others can go as long as 24 days from the time of infection to the time they show symptoms. There is one outlier reported to have been infected 42 days before symptoms, however as they are the only one, there are doubts as to whether that is really the case. The key thing to understanding the risk Covid-19 poses, is that a person can become infectious well before they start showing symptoms. This means that an infected individual can go through their daily life with no idea that they are infecting those around them. The long and inconsistent incubation period means that a person can continue to do that for several weeks before anyone knows about it.
The virus is highly contagious. It can survive on surfaces for up to 9 days. It can spread by droplets from a cough or sneeze up to 2 meters. It is transmittable through fecal mater so it can spread through not washing your hands after using the bathroom. And most frightening of all is that new evidence suggests that it may have a limited ability to spread through the air. No one has been able to settle on an R0 yet but is estimated between R2-R6. R0 is the calculation of how many other people will be infected by a single person. So an R2 for example means that for every person infected they will infect 2 more, and those people will go on to infect 2 more, and on and on. For comparison the flu has a rate of R1.3. Spanish flu had a rate of between R1.4-R2.8
During the critical time period to stop the spread of the virus, confusion and misinformation from China meant that flights from Hubei, the center of the mass outbreak, did not stop until Feb. 6, 2020 in the US. Many other countries are still accepting flights from China as of today. It is estimated that over 5,000,000 people left the Hubei province in China for the Lunar new year and tracking shows that they landed in different countries all round the world. As of today, the virus has spread to 28 countries including, US, UK, Australia, and Canada.
As of right now we do not know the exact mortality rate but it has been estimated at around 2-5% depending on location. To put that into perspective the flu has a mortality rate of .13% making Covid-19 at least 20-50 times more lethal than the flu. If the virus continues to spread unchecked we are looking at a situation similar to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1916 which killed 50 million people.
As this is a new disease there is no vaccine and no proven treatment. Some luck has been had with antivirals used to treat HIV but there has not been enough time to find out exactly how successful the drugs will be against an outbreak.
The virus causes mild flu like symptoms in 80% of those infected. 20% of those infected develop into critical condition and require intensive care. The virus causes pneumonia, and recent studies have shown it can also damage the liver, kidneys and possibly even the testicles in infected males. Doctors working on the front line of the infection report that in some recovered individuals the antibodies produced by infection do not last long. They report that in those individuals can then become re-infected with a more lethal outcome due to an attack on the heart by the virus. It is unclear yet what percentage of recovered individuals this takes place in.
It is important to give context for the term "mild" in relation to covid-19. In this case mild just means that you did not need supplemental oxygen. You can still be sick as a dog and unable to work for weeks.
It is vital that everyone educate themselves on sanitary precautions to stop the spread and have a couple of weeks supplies on hand in the event of a local outbreak. No one is suggesting that we should panic or buy out all the Coco Puffs from the grocery store, but some small rational precautions need to be taken if we are to prevent an outbreak like the one seen in China in other places. Stay safe, be smart, and stay healthy.
Other articles regarding prevention and Disaster Preparedness can be found on this blog.