A newly identified coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is spreading across the globe. Here’s what you need to know about the virus and the disease it causes, called COVID-19.
Update on Saturday, March 7 (ET):
—1st coronavirus deaths on U.S. East Coast, reported in Florida.
—At least 340 confirmed cases in the U.S., with 86 of those in Washington state and 79 in California.
—The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. The event, which was to take place March 13–22, typically attracts hundreds of thousands of people.
—Twenty-one passengers onboard the Grand Princess cruise ship have tested positive for coronavirus. The ship is currently being held off the coast of California.
—The University of Washington in Seattle has become the first U.S. college to cancel in-person classes due to coronavirus.
—WHO director-general calls on countries to take the outbreaks seriously and that “this is not a time for excuses.”
—There are 102,472 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, with more cases popping up outside China than inside.
—The U.S. has approved $8.3 billion in emergency funding for the country’s coronavirus response.
—3,491 deaths have been linked to the virus. Deaths worldwide exceed those from SARS. And 55,753 individuals have recovered from COVID-19.
—Hubei Province, where the outbreak began, reported no new COVID-19 cases on Friday (March 6), the first day without any new infections being reported, The New York Times reported.
—San Francisco reported its first two cases of COVID-19 on March 5. The cases are not connected with a previous case in the area, suggesting community spread. In nearby Santa Clara county (which has 20 reported cases of COVID-19), officials recommended canceling large events, including concerts and sports games, to slow the spread of the virus.
—A dog in China whose owner has a confirmed case of COVID-19 has tested ‘weak positive’ for the virus, experts confirmed.
—A cruise ship with a suspected coronavirus outbreak is being held off the coast of California. Two people who were on a previous cruise on the ship tested positive for the virus, and one has died.
—Additional cases have been confirmed in New York, bringing the state’s total to 44.
—California reported its first death from COVID-19, in an elderly adult with underlying health conditions, the Sacramento Bee reported. The resident of Placer County had taken a cruise from San Francisco to Mexico Feb. 11 to Feb. 21 and was potentially exposed while abroad.
—Italy’s government announced all schools and universities in the country will be closed from March 5 to March 15, as the country has confirmed 4,636 cases and 197 deaths linked to the coronavirus, CNBC reported.
—The global mortality rate for COVID-19 is 3.4%, WHO said on March 2. This virus causes more severe illness than the flu, but doesn’t spread as efficiently, the director-general said.
(Image credit: Jef Castro/Future)
US CORONAVIRUS CASES
California: 66 (1 death)
Florida: 7 (2 deaths)
New Hampshire: 2
New York: 44
New Jersey: 2
North Carolina: 2
Rhode Island: 2
South Carolina: 2
Washington: 85 (13 deaths)
—The Olympic Games, scheduled for this summer in Tokyo, will likely continue as planned but there’s a chance it could be postponed until later this year amid the coronavirus outbreak.
— Washington state reported more deaths from the coronavirus.
—FDA announces 1 million coronavirus tests should be available by end of week.
—Cases of coronavirus in South Korea skyrocketed to 7,041, where about 60% of the cases are somehow linked to members of a secret religious sect.
—What are the symptoms?
—How deadly is the new coronavirus?
—Is there a cure for COVID-19?
—How does it compare with seasonal flu?
—How does the coronavirus spread?
—Can people spread the coronavirus after they recover?
University of Washington tells students not to come to class
The University of Washington (UW) in Seattle has become the first U.S. college to cancel in-person classes due to coronavirus, according to The New York Times.
In a statement, UW said that starting Monday, March 9, classes and finals would be held remotely until the end of the winter quarter on March 20. The university hopes to resume normal classes at the start of the spring quarter on March 30. Campus services, including hospitals, clinics, dining services, residence halls, and recreation facilities will remain open during this time. The announcement comes amid a growing outbreak of COVID-19 in Washington state, which has reported about 86 cases and 13 deaths so far.
WHO warns countries this is not a drill
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus put out a statement Thursday aimed at getting countries that are not taking the coronavirus seriously to do so before it’s too late. He emphasized that the current situation, with the global case count getting close to 100,000, “is not a drill.”
“This epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government,” Ghebreyesus said in a WHO statement. “We are calling on every country to act with speed, scale, and clear-minded determination.”
He also applauded some countries like South Korea. “We see encouraging signs from the Republic of Korea. The number of newly-reported cases appears to be declining, and the cases that are being reported are being identified primarily from known clusters,” he said in the statement.
The solution, he said, is “aggressive preparedness.” He went on to say, “We’re concerned that some countries have either not taken this seriously enough, or have decided there’s nothing they can do.
We are concerned that in some countries the level of political commitment and the actions that demonstrate that commitment do not match the level of the threat we all face.”
Washington state reports three more deaths from coronavirus.
According to the Seattle Times, 15 deaths in Washington state have been linked to the new coronavirus. On reported three more deaths from the coronavirus on Tuesday (March 3), according to The Washington Post. All three deaths were in King County.
One of these deaths occurred last week, on Feb. 26, but doctors only recently discovered that samples from the patient tested positive for the virus, according to The New York Times. The patient was being treated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and was a resident of the long-term care facility Life Care Center of Kirkland, where officials suspect an outbreak of coronavirus is occuring. So far, five deaths have been linked to the facility, according to The Seattle Times.
Diagnostic tests in the US
After botching its initial attempt at a COVID-19 diagnostic test, and taking weeks to develop a replacement, the U.S. government has enlisted the help of private companies and academic institutions to expand the nation’s testing capacity, The New York Times reported. According to “the estimates we’re getting from industry right now, by the end of this week, close to a million tests will be able to be performed,” FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a press briefing on Monday (Mar. 2).
Last week, the FDA enabled state and local laboratories to develop and validate their own diagnostic tests and conduct initial testing on their own, rather than sending samples to the CDC’s laboratory in Atlanta, according to the Times.
The CDC tests use a PCR-based protocol, meaning they pinpoint bits of viral DNA in swabbed samples from a patient’s nose and throat, according to The Scientist. Many of the other tests in development follow the same approach, but some labs aim to use the gene-editing technique CRISPR to highlight the target genes with fluorescent tags, The Scientist reported. Other groups are working to isolate antibodies from infected people in order to develop blood tests for the virus.
Will Face Masks Fight the Coronavirus?
How far has the coronavirus spread in the US?
The U.S. now has at least 159 confirmed coronavirus cases and nine deaths (all deaths have been in Washington state). There have been 27 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington state and nine of those individuals have died from the virus, all of whom had underlying health conditions. Most of the deaths occurred at the EvergreenHealth Health Medical Center in Kirkland, in King County, according to the Seattle Times. By comparing genetic sequences of two of the cases in Kirkland, scientists say the virus could’ve been spreading for up to six weeks there, and if so, that would mean it could have infected between 150 and 1,500 individuals, the New York Times reported.
A woman in Manhattan became the first coronavirus case reported in New York state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday (March 1), according to the Times. That woman, who recently traveled to Iran, is isolated in her home. The second case in the state was reported on March 3 in a man who lives in New Rochelle, New York, in Westchester County and works in Manhattan. On Wednesday (March 4), Gov. Cuomo confirmed there were nine additional cases of people connected to the man, including his 20-year-old son, 14-year-old daughter and a neighbor who drove the man to the hospital, the Times reported. In addition, a friend of the infected man, along with the friend’s wife and three of their kids, according to the Times.
The virus has now been confirmed in the following U.S. states:
North Carolina: 1
New York: 11
New Hampshire: 2
Rhode Island: 2
Why are coronavirus cases so high in South Korea?
The outbreak in South Korea seems to have begun at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Daegu, where a 61-year-old woman spread the virus to at least 37 others. Considered a “superspreader” for the abnormally high number of people she infected, the woman (called “Patient 31” by Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) developed a fever on Feb. 10 and attended four church services before being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Currently, at least 60% of the confirmed cases in South Korea were initially linked in some way to members of this secret religious sect, the Times reported. There have been at least 35 deaths from the virus in South Korea.
The founder of the religious sect, 88-year-old Lee Man-hee is being accused by the government of thwarting their efforts to contain the virus, the Times reported. The government has accused him of not sharing the full list of the sect’s members so they could be tested. On Monday (March 2), Lee apologized to the people of South Korea, saying he was sorry that so many of the cases are tied to his church, the Times reported.
Coronavirus cases outside mainland China
The spread of the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 is slowing down in mainland China, while it is picking up elsewhere. It has reached every continent except Antarctica. Outside mainland China, 233 deaths have been linked to the virus: in the U.S., Italy, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Iran, France, Iraq, San Marino, Spain and six Diamond Princess passengers.
Here’s a look at the number of cases in some places outside mainland China where the count is relatively high, according to a Johns Hopkins dashboard:
South Korea: 6,593
Hong Kong: 106
How does coronavirus compare to SARS and MERS?
As of March, there were more than 3,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, far exceeding deaths from SARS, which killed 774 individuals worldwide, according to The New York Times.
MERS and SARS have both been known to cause severe symptoms in people. It’s unclear how the new coronavirus will compare in severity, as it has caused severe symptoms and death in some patients while causing only mild illness in others, according to the CDC. All three of the coronaviruses can be transmitted between humans through close contact.
MERS, which was transmitted from touching infected camels or consuming their meat or milk, was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and has mostly been contained in the Arabian Peninsula, according to NPR. SARS was first reported in 2002 in southern China (no new cases have been reported since 2004) and is thought to have spread from bats that infected civets. The new coronavirus was likely transmitted from touching or eating an infected animal in Wuhan.
During the SARS outbreak, the virus killed about 1 in 10 people who were infected. The death rate from COVID-19 is estimated to be a little over 2%.
Still, in the beginning of an outbreak, the initial cases that are identified “skew to the severe,” which may make the mortality rate seem higher than it is, Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Homeland Security (HHS), said during a news briefing on Tuesday (Jan. 28). The mortality rate may drop as more mild cases are identified, Azar said.
Currently, most of the patients who have died from the infection have been older than 60 and have had preexisting conditions.
Coronavirus on Super Tuesday
As voters head to the polls in 14 states for Super Tuesday, some areas are taking extra precautions in light of the growing number of coronavirus cases in the U.S.
In Solano County, California, which has three confirmed cases of coronavirus, officials said they had expanded the number of “curbside” ballot drop-off locations, where people can turn in their ballots from their car, and had stocked up on gloves for poll workers according to The New York Times. In nearby Sacramento County, about a dozen temporary election clerks have opted out of their assignments for election day “for fear of being in public spaces,” according to The Sacramento Bee. Still, the county has nearly 700 election clerks and does not anticipate an impact on voting, officials said.
In Colorado, poll workers have been instructed to disinfect polling machines after each use, the Times reported. And in Massachusetts, officials said people under quarantine for coronavirus will be allowed to have someone pick up their ballot and take them to an election office.
Jeanna Bryner, Tia Ghose, Rachael Rettner, Yasemin Saplakoglu and Nicoletta Lanese contributed reporting.