Coronavirus: New Epidemic or Overreaction?


Aiden Bruder, Staff Writer

Nestled in the wet plains and hills of the central Chinese province of Hubei is the city of Wuhan, a community of approximately 11 million people and the ninth largest city in China. In recent weeks, this city has been the spotlight of world news because of an outbreak of a new sickness that quickly turned into an epidemic. With recorded cases climbing into the tens of thousands and with cases outside of China showing up in the United States, Australia, and many European countries, many people have begun to panic. Are these people overreacting? Or, are they right to prepare for a worldwide epidemic?

According to the CDC, the term “coronavirus” is actually a large group of viruses that spread from animals to humans and can cause respiratory problems. The most prevalent coronavirus is the common cold, with other coronaviruses being more severe pneumonia, and past outbreaks of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) that have caused deaths. The term used for the new Chinese coronavirus is the Novel 2019 Coronavirus (nCOV), with “novel” meaning “new.”

The first cases of nCOV appeared around the last week of December in Wuhan. For the first few days, cases of nCOV were mistaken for severe cases of pneumonia, a closely related coronavirus. Although it is known that, being a coronavirus, that nCOV is spread from animals, it is unknown which animal it came from and where it originated. SARS came from wild cats and MERS came from camels, so it’s possible that nCOV comes from a mammal. Wuhan has a live animal market and exotic market, so it is highly likely that the epidemic began there. Its spread can be blamed for the location of the epidemic (the sprawling highly-populated urban center of Wuhan) and, some say, Chinese unpreparedness for an epidemic on that scale.

There is no official mortality rate for nCOV. However, there are estimates for many regions. These estimates ranged from one percent to seven percent in some studies, with about an average of two percent. This makes the mortality rate for nCOV 40 times larger than the flu. However, nCOV’s mortality rate still doesn’t reach the levels of SARS and MERS, which had mortality rates of 9.6 percent and 34.5 percent respectively. Even if it doesn’t have a very high mortality rate compared to related viruses, it still has the same spreadability. Although the heavy majority of cases are still in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei Province, nCOV has spread to much of the eastern half of China, with cities like Beijing and Shanghai being affected. Besides geographic spread, the virus has spread through travel. As of February 7, there have been 12 confirmed cases of nCOV in the USA. These are relatively low numbers, and the confirmed infected are kept in quarantine. The high death rates can also be blamed on unpreparedness on China’s part for an epidemic and a lack of medical supplies in China. Out of the 12 Americans infected, there have been no confirmed deaths of any of them.

There are still many unknowns on the human transmission of nCOV, and much of the information scientists have to go on is data from other coronaviruses. More often than not, infection occurs with close contact with an infected person, with respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes spreading the virus, similar to the flu and other respiratory illnesses.

Do not worry, it is thought that spreadability is most heightened when the infected person shows symptoms, so you won’t get sick from a person not showing signs. As for regular prevention, it is very similar to preventing the common cold. Make sure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with people who are showing possible symptoms. If you feel sick, avoid contact with other people and make sure you cover your sneezes and coughs with a tissue and throw it in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. If you follow these instructions, you have the best chance of not becoming infected.

There is a difference between being scared and being cautious, and it is always suggested, especially in the winter where we stay in buildings and illnesses are more spreadable, to be cautious. There have only been 12 confirmed cases in the whole of the United States, and none of them have died yet. Although the virus is still spreading throughout China, the Chinese government is working to fix its initial mistake with help from the international community. It is good to remember safe, clean habits, but at this point in time it’s too early to go into pandemic paranoia. Just remember to stay safe and pay attention to news updates.