What you need to know and how to keep yourself safe
Note: This is a rapidly developing story. The information in this piece is current as of Wednesday, March 4th.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is rapidly spreading across the globe. As of Wednesday, March 4, there are a reported 128 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., spanning 13 states (including Oregon) and resulting in 11 deaths thus far. Ten of these deaths occurred in Washington state, and the other occurred in California.
There is currently one case of COVID-19 confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Oregon (Clackamas and Washington counties) and two more presumptive (tested but not CDC-confirmed) cases (Washington and Umatilla counties), with 18 tests pending and 115 people being monitored for symptoms. There are also, as of March 4, 28 reported cases in Washington state and 58 cases in California, including 30 in the Bay Area.
COVID-19 was initially identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December of 2019, and has now been identified in almost 80 countries. The global prevalence of COVID-19 is currently at an estimated more than 95,000 cases worldwide and over 3,200 deaths, while over 51,000 people have recovered from infection.
SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the family coronaviruses (CoV), a group of viruses that often cause colds. This family also contains three viruses that have caused deadly outbreaks: MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now SARS-CoV-2. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently states that the global mortality rate for COVID-19 is 3.4%, but this number is difficult to pin-down — not all cases are being reported, and mortality rates differ across health-care systems. For reference, SARS-CoV during the 2003 outbreak killed almost 10% of the 8,000 people infected, and the mortality rate of the flu is about 0.1% in the U.S.
The virus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, with a range of about 6 feet. The virus may also be spread when a person touches a surface that has the virus on it and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
The disease’s primary symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, which may appear within 2–14 days after exposure. Most people with COVID-19, however, exhibit mild symptoms, so it is important to take precautionary measures to prevent becoming sick or infecting others. Those most at risk for severe illness are the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and those with underlying chronic diseases.
In many ways, preventative measures for COVID-19 resemble advice for avoiding other illnesses such as the common cold or flu. As the WHO recommends, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly using soap, and do not touch your face with unwashed hands. Hand sanitizer of around 70–80% ethanol is also an effective disinfectant. High-contact surfaces, such as doorknobs and phones, should be cleaned daily. Maintain a distance of at least three feet between you and those who are coughing or sneezing. Cover your mouth and nose with either your elbow or a tissue when you sneeze or cough, disposing of the tissue and cleaning your hands afterwards. If you feel sick, stay home. If you have a fever and difficulty breathing, wear a facemask and call a healthcare professional for testing and treatment. The CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask as a preventative measure against getting COVID-19.
It is important to note that while COVID-19 poses a serious health risk across the globe, the virus is not currently spreading rapidly within the U.S., and most people are not at immediate risk for infection. Awareness of the disease is key, but it is important not to panic.
For up-to-date information, please refer to the Reed College coronavirus website.