The WHO Has Declared The COVID-19 Coronavirus Outbreak A Pandemic: Here Is What That Means

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The COVID-19 coronavirus was declared a global pandemic by the WHO on March 11, 2020 (Credit: YouTube screen capture)

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the COVID-19 coronavirus global emergency is now a pandemic. The UN health agency urged countries worldwide to "double-down" on their efforts to curtail the spread of the infectious disease, which has swept into at least 114 countries and killed over 4,000 people in less than three months.

"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we're deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterized by 'pandemic,'" WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

What is a pandemic?

A pandemic refers to the unchecked spread of disease across many countries (Credit: www.utsouthwestern.edu)

A viral illness usually starts as an "outbreak." This refers to a large number of people in one area getting infected within a short period of time. For example, the series of measles cases in the US in 2019 was considered an outbreak. If the disease continues to spread extensively, it is termed an "epidemic." According to the WHO, an epidemic is "the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness ... clearly in excess of normal expectancy."

However, the rapid global spread of COVID-19 — which began as an outbreak with 41 identified cases in Wuhan, China — has clearly gone far beyond the local community and region, transforming into a "pandemic." Scary as it sounds, a pandemic is a loosely-defined term that does not necessarily predict a severely dire outcome. The WHO usually declares a pandemic when a new virus, for which people do not have immunity, spreads around the world beyond expectations.

Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, National Institute for Health Research academic clinical lecturer at King's College London, says: "The change of term does not alter anything practically as the world has been advised for the last few weeks to prepare for a potential pandemic, which has hopefully been taken seriously by all countries. The use of this term, however, highlights the importance of countries throughout the world working cooperatively and openly with one another and coming together as a united front in our efforts to bring this situation under control."

How is the world stepping up to the WHO's call for action?

While governments and corporations worldwide had taken some measures to curb the COVID-19 spread, its new status as a pandemic has elevated the urgency further. Italy, which has reported 10,000 COVID-19 cases, including 1,000 deaths — the worst outbreak outside of China — has imposed severe travel restrictions and banned all public gatherings. All sporting events have also been suspended indefinitely, and schools and universities have been shuttered until at least April 3, 2020.

Spain, with over 4,000 cases, has declared a national state of emergency. In addition to banning non-essential travel, the government has also closed all schools and universities until early April. In the Catalonia region, all businesses and retailers, except for ones selling food or essential goods, have been shut down in the four hardest-hit towns. Madrid, which is the epicenter of almost half of the country's COVID-19 cases, has taken similar measures and closed all restaurants, bars, and shops. Only supermarkets and pharmacies are allowed to remain open.

The US is taking similar measures. Following the WHO announcement, President Trump imposed a 30-day ban on visitors from continental Europe. He also promised to free up as much as $50 billion towards fighting the spread of the virus. The US government is also in the process of approving a bill that will provide free COVID-19 testing for all, and paid sick leave and unemployment insurance for those afflicted with the virus, as well as additional Medicaid funding for local healthcare systems.

Professional sports leagues, including the NBA, NCAA, NHL, and MLB, have either postponed or suspended their 2020 season. A large number of universities across the nation have closed and moved classes online for the rest of the school year. At least a dozen states, including —Ohio, Maryland, New Mexico, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington, and Alabama — have closed schools until the end of March or early April. Large retailers, including Apple Inc and Urban Outfitters are shuttering stores globally, while others like Walmart, are cutting store hours. Many American city and town officials have banned large public gatherings, including concerts. Officials are also urging citizens to limit private events to less than 100 guests.

What precautions can I take?

COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus, first surfaced in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 (Credit: CDC.gov)

Experts assert that simple precautions are the key to avoiding the infection. Wash your hands, including your nail tips, frequently and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands, and stay away from people displaying flu-like symptoms. Conversely, those experiencing such symptoms should get tested and not go to school, work, or any public area where they risk infecting others.

Given the unprecedented nature of the virus' spread, the situation is certainly not one to be taken lightly. However, thanks to the concerted efforts from government officials, corporations, and individuals, we remain optimistic that the COVID-19 pandemic will soon be contained.

Stay strong, stay healthy. We are all in this together!

Resources: Vox.com, LAtimes.com, www.brusselstimes.com USAtoday.com

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1225 Comments
  • renigade2020
    renigade2020Wednesday, July 1, 2020 at 2:28 pm
    BE careful and follow safety standards 😷
    • renigade2020
      renigade2020Wednesday, July 1, 2020 at 2:15 pm
      I'm so anxious about covid-19 and wear a mask please 😷
      • coolcookie
        coolcookieWednesday, July 1, 2020 at 12:20 pm
        I hope you guys are safe
        • graycat
          graycatTuesday, June 30, 2020 at 12:06 pm
          Be safe everyone we can get through this
          • renigade2020
            renigade2020Tuesday, June 30, 2020 at 10:52 am
            I'm scared of caching covid-19 and wear a mask😷
            • beachvibes2020
              beachvibes2020Tuesday, June 30, 2020 at 6:46 am
              Hey everyone!! Here are some tips if you are going back to school this fall!! 1) Stay 6 feet away from your classmates. 2) Keep a spare mask in your backpack. (If you want to) 3) Wear a mask if you are asked to. 4) DON'T hug ANYONE at school!!!!! I know that's hard, but I know you can do it!! I hope this helps!!!! 😎😎 -BeachVibes2020🏖🏝
              • graycat
                graycatTuesday, June 30, 2020 at 12:10 pm
                We will be doing online classes next year to
              • wdwuniversal
                wdwuniversalMonday, June 29, 2020 at 5:57 pm
                Okay guys. Here we are 10 million cases. Millions of deaths. But we have to stay strong. Our lives have changed dramatically. This will be our 9/11 story to tell our children. But let me tell you something that the news doesn't tell. there are more recoveries than deaths. Of course nobody talks about it, but it is true. As long as we build strong immune system, we will recover (if infected). We are all in this together. We stand fall as global citizens. Has anyone seen High School Musical? If you have, you know the song We're all in this together".If your are unfamiliar with the movie, then look up the lyrics. (I would usually provide a Musixmatch lyric sheet but I can't show links). It gives us the message that we need. To stand together. That is our theme now, to be together while socially distant. Stay healthy,stay strong,wear a mask, and stay distant. Remember: We are all in this together.
                • renigade2020
                  renigade2020Wednesday, July 1, 2020 at 2:18 pm
                  I'm so anxious about covid-19 I can't sleep and follow safety standards 😷you will be protecting your self and others
                • beequeen
                  beequeenSunday, June 28, 2020 at 10:33 am
                  I get to go to school this year, you guys need to stay healthy and positive. Times like there's can be hard. You can take a small walk, or call a friend. Stay happy.
                  • coolcookie
                    coolcookieMonday, June 29, 2020 at 9:48 am
                    Lucky
                  • kittypretty
                    kittyprettyWednesday, June 24, 2020 at 7:39 am
                    in Alabama the cases are increaseing🤢
                    • renigade2020
                      renigade2020Wednesday, July 1, 2020 at 2:19 pm
                      SO ANXIOUS 😓
                      • animereina2020
                        animereina2020Wednesday, June 24, 2020 at 7:15 pm
                        On no! My dad's side of the family lives there! Do you live there? I am scared and nervous for you!😥
                        • wdwuniversal
                          wdwuniversalMonday, June 29, 2020 at 5:47 pm
                          Here in Texas cases are increasing rapidly. My city has like 50k cases so this is just crazy Wear a mask, stay 6ft (2m) apart and practice good personal hygiene. We will get through this together,while still apart.
                          • leet05
                            leet05Friday, June 26, 2020 at 8:59 am
                            I will pray for your family
                            • wdwuniversal
                              wdwuniversalWednesday, July 1, 2020 at 2:59 pm
                              Thanks! We can do this!
                        • judgment11
                          judgment11Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 5:48 am
                          Don’t be pessimistic about this virus! Stay home, stay strong!