Public health experts around the world are trying to understand, track down and contain a new virus that hit Wuhan, China in early December 2019. The World Health Organization named the disease caused by the COVID-19 virus, which refers to the virus, the type of virus and the year in which it occurred.
On this map you can see where and how many cases of illness have been reported. To date, there have been over 92,000 confirmed cases and 3,131 deaths. Over 48,000 people have recovered from the disease. The vast majority of diseases are still in China, but the number of new cases has slowed there. Most new cases occur in countries outside of China, and major outbreaks occur in South Korea, Italy, Iran, and Japan. There are over 100 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States.
As this important story continues to unfold, The Verge will update this page with the latest news and analysis. We hope to be able to answer all of your questions as people work to understand this virus and curb its spread.
Table of Contents
Where did the virus come from?
In late December, public health officials from China told the World Health Organization that they had a problem: an unknown new virus caused pneumonia in Wuhan City. They quickly discovered that it was a corona virus and that it spread quickly inside and outside of Wuhan.
Photo by Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
Corona viruses are common in animals of all types and can sometimes develop into forms that can infect humans. Since the beginning of the century, two other corona viruses have jumped on humans and caused the SARS outbreak in 2002 and the MERS outbreak in 2012.
Scientists believe that this new virus was able to reach humans for the first time in early December. It initially seemed like the virus first infected people from a fish market in Wuhan and spread from there. However, an analysis of early illnesses published on January 24 showed that the first patient who fell ill had no contact with the market. Experts are still trying to trace the eruption back to its source.
The nature of the animal from which the virus is derived is not clear, although analysis revealed that the genetic sequence of the new virus is 96 percent identical to a coronavirus found in bats. Both SARS and MERS came from bats.
So is it the same as SARS?
The new virus is not a SARS, although it started in China. Because it comes from the same virus family as SARS, it has some similarities, but is a completely new virus. Because of the common ground, scientists and public health officials can use what they learned from the past to stop it.
China lied to WHO about SARS. Is it lying about it too?
During the SARS outbreak, Chinese officials tried to hide cases from WHO inspectors and restrict information both internally and externally. This time, WHO officials quickly reported the outbreak of the new virus, which was praised for its rapid response and transparency at a press conference. China also allows a team of WHO experts to assist Chinese health officials with day-to-day work, the organization announced on January 28.
The U.S. Department of Health also said China is more transparent than SARS. "The level of cooperation between the Chinese government is fundamentally different from what we experienced in 2003," said Department Secretary Alex Azar during a press conference.
However, critics and Chinese citizens were skeptical: there were early concerns that Chinese officials were counting the number of diseases and deaths that could possibly be caused by the virus were classified as pneumonia. The Wuhan police also examined people to spread rumors online at the start of the outbreak.
(It is important to note that China is not the only country known to disguise the scale of public health problems. In the United States, for example, dozens of cities have hidden the amount of lead in their public water supplies.)
How dangerous is this new virus?
It is difficult to say at the moment.
Information is needed on how serious a disease is and how easily it can spread to determine how “bad” it can be. Epidemiologists often use this tool to assess new strains of flu, for example to make decisions:
Image: Centers for disease control
If a disease is not very serious (and only kills a small percentage of people) but is highly communicable, it can still have devastating effects. If something affects millions, the low percentage of deaths is still a high number of deaths.
The WHO named the disease caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus "co" and "vi" for coronavirus, "d" for disease and "19" for the year in which the disease occurred.
The symptoms of COVID-19 ranged from mild to cold to severe. Around 80 percent of the confirmed cases are mild. That is 80 percent of the cases known to us. It is still possible that there are many more mild cases of the disease that have not been reported, which would reduce the percentage of severe cases. About 5 percent of the cases are critical, and it appears that about half of the people with critical cases of the disease die from it.
So far, the death rate for the new disease is 1 or 2 percent, although it's too early to say for sure, and this could change as the outbreak progresses. The death rate for SARS was 14 to 15 percent. Most of the deaths from this outbreak have occurred in the elderly and in people with underlying health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. In this group, the death rate for the new corona virus is much higher: for example, it is around 14 percent for people over 80 years of age.
How quickly does the virus spread?
The virus moves quickly around the world. In China, sick people have been infecting others from person to person since the beginning of January. The new corona virus spread quickly in the closed environment on the cruise ship Diamond Princess. Numerous cases have occurred in Italy, Iran and South Korea, and it is possible that many more cases have not been discovered outside of China. Experts say that it may not be possible to curb a wider spread of the virus.
Early evidence suggests that the virus, like other coronaviruses, jumps between people who are in very close contact with one another and is likely to spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
Chinese officials have said they have seen cases where people have infected the virus before they show symptoms, but there is no detailed evidence of whether or how much that happens. Research from China has shown that people without symptoms still have a high level of virus in the throat and nose, which means that they may pass it on if they cough or sneeze. A family in Anyang, China, also appeared to be ill from an asymptomatic family member, reported a study in JAMA.
If this happens regularly, it will be more difficult to curb the spread of the virus. And even if it did happen, it probably wouldn't have a significant impact on the outbreak, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a press conference. "Even if there is asymptomatic transmission, asymptomatic transmission has never been the trigger in the entire history of respiratory disease," he said. "An epidemic is not caused by asymptomatic carriers."
The WHO says researchers believe that on average, between 1.4 and 2.5 additional people will infect each sick person, although this is only a preliminary estimate. Other research teams have published their own estimates, with most saying that a sick person infects two or three people on average.
These numbers are called the R0 of the virus (pronounced "R-nothing"). The R0 is the mathematical representation of how well an infection can spread. The higher the number, the more potentially distributable it can be. For comparison, the R0 for SARS was between two and five. However, this does not mean that every sick person actually infects so many people. Quarantines and other measures to combat virus outbreaks can reduce the number of people infected.
Can we treat this virus?
There are no proven treatments for COVID-19, but there are dozens of studies trying to find one. A leading candidate is Remdesivir, an antiviral drug that was originally developed to treat Ebola. There are clinical trials testing this on patients in China and the United States.
Research teams and pharmaceutical companies are also working on developing a vaccine that can protect people from infections. However, vaccine development takes a long time. Even if everything goes smoothly, it will take about a year to 18 months to get one, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
How can I protect myself?
Based on what we know so far, you can protect yourself with the same measures you would (and should) take to protect yourself from the flu: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and hold Get away from people who are sick. Stay home from work or school if you feel sick. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious, and there are ways to reduce this fear by distracting yourself from other activities or keeping an eye on the risks.
If you live in the U.S., you are still more likely to have the flu or cold. It is still flu season and it is not expected that the high flu activity will wane soon. (It's not too late to get a flu shot!)
Call your doctor if you live in the United States and have a fever, have a dry cough, have recently been to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, or South Korea, have had or been in touch with someone who has been to one of these locations with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Should I cancel my vacation in Asia?
The US State Department raised the travel advice for China to level 4 and said Americans should not travel to China because of the virus. Level 4 is the most serious warning. It only applies to areas with a "higher probability of life-threatening risks". US citizens currently in China should "consider leaving with commercial means," the warning said.
The CDC also issued travel warnings for Level 1 travel advice for Hong Kong, saying that anyone who travels there should take precautions by washing their hands and avoiding sick people. Level 2 travel advice for Japan has been issued stating that people who may be at higher risk from the virus – older adults and people with chronic health problems – should not travel unless strictly necessary. There are level 3 travel notices for China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, and the CDC recommends avoiding unnecessary trips to these countries.
Many countries have travel restrictions and quarantine travelers if they are suspected of suffering from the disease or if they have been anywhere where it is common. Anyone who goes on a trip should prepare to have their plans disrupted if the situation changes.
How is China trying to stop the virus?
China took aggressive measures at the start of the outbreak, stopped transporting to Wuhan – home to over 11 million people – and canceled flights and trains to and from the city. Dozens of other cities have been quarantined to slow the spread of the virus to other countries, and many have canceled New Year celebrations, a major holiday in China.
Wow, it's like the western world that cancels Christmas. For many migrant workers, this is their ONLY vacation all year round and the only time they see their families in distant villages again. https://t.co/mxJ6oDEcn8
– Mei Fong / me 凤 美 (@meifongwriter) January 23, 2020
China has also held public gatherings, isolated sick people and aggressively followed up contacts, and had a dedicated network of hospitals to test for the virus.
The number of new infections reported in China has decreased, indicating to WHO officials that the transmission has slowed down – and that their containment measures have worked.
How vulnerable is the United States?
It's hard to say how significant the impact could be in the United States, but the virus is spreading across the country. The CDC uses its guidelines for the influenza pandemic as a starting point for preparations. People in the U.S. should prepare for everyday disorders, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press conference.
There are over 100 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., including people diagnosed with COVID-19. after being evacuated from the U.S. Department of State from Wuhan and the cruise ship Diamond Princess and quarantined in the U.S. Nine people in the United States have died of the virus, and an outbreak has occurred repeatedly in a nursing home in Washington State.
There are cases in California, New York, Washington, Oregon, and Florida of people who have had no contact with a person who is known to be infected with COVID-19. The source of these diseases is unknown and it can mean that the virus spreads to communities in the United States. The virus may have spread in Washington for weeks.
In response, the CDC updated the test guidelines to allow doctors to test people suspected of having COVID-19, even if they were not in a country where the virus was persistent or in contact with someone who was A confirmed case of the virus had been tested, which delayed the diagnosis of patients in California and Washington. However, the guidelines continue to say that people without this exposure should only be tested if they are sick enough to be hospitalized. This may not be the case in people with only a minor illness.
The CDC also plans to monitor the virus more extensively to determine if cases are missing, but problems with test kits have slowed the launch. Starting up is important because other countries are looking for cases more aggressively – and finding them.
The growth in the number of cases in South Korea, Italy and Iran partially reflects the test strategy. You search more and find more. This is why expanding diagnostic capacity in the United States is so urgent. We don't monitor enough to understand when / if / how much community has spread.
– Caitlin Rivers (@cmyeaton), February 26, 2020
US Secretary of State for Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, declared a public health emergency in response to the coronavirus in late January. All flights from China to the United States are diverted to seven airports, and any US citizen who has traveled to China is asked to quarantine for 14 days. Every U.S. citizen located in Hubei Province (where Wuhan is located and where the virus originated) is quarantined for 14 days.
In addition, a foreigner who has traveled to China in the past 14 days is not permitted to enter the United States unless he has immediate family members there, according to a proclamation by President Trump. The WHO does not support this decision. These countries should not restrict travel or trade in their response to the virus.
Trump announced new travel restrictions for Iran in early March. Foreigners who have traveled to Iran in the past 14 days are not allowed to enter the United States.
How does the virus affect companies operating in China?
A number of airlines, including United Airlines, British Airways and Air Canada, cancel some or all flights to and from China. United Airlines said its decision was due to a decline in demand for these flights.
Tech companies like Apple have already started restricting employee travel to China before the US State Department and CDC warned people against traveling there. South Korea's LG completely banned the trip to China, and both Facebook and Razer told employees who recently returned from China to work from home.
Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics company that has factories in China and manufactures products for technology companies like Apple, said the virus had no effect on their production. However, China officially extended the New Year holidays to curb the spread of the virus, which could delay normal production plans. In a recent earnings call, Apple said this uncertainty was taken into account for the next quarter.