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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941 Comments
  • sharkqueen27
    sharkqueen27Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 6:36 pm
    If I would've known the last time I was gonna see my friends was March 13, I would be giving them all a huge hug😭😭😭😔
    • sharkqueen27
      sharkqueen27Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 6:36 pm
      Like if you miss your friends
    • sissy5543
      sissy5543Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 12:17 pm
      I live in Maryland so we go back on April 24 2020
      • sissy5543
        sissy5543Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 12:16 pm
        Hey y'all just try to stay home
        • sissy5543
          sissy5543Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 12:13 pm
          I feel bad for people who have it
          • hagacyzi-158560496769
            hagacyzi-158560496769Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 11:30 am
            i think people need to stop going out already
            • graycat
              graycatThursday, April 2, 2020 at 10:55 am
              I am in 5th grade and I hope that we all stay safe and we have to make sure that we cover our mouths when we cough or sneeze and that we wash our hands daily so we all stay safe because this Covid-19 has been spreading really fast and it all started from one person that are an infected bat and it shows us that something very harmful can happen in a matter of seconds but it is very important that we all help each other
              • graycat
                graycatThursday, April 2, 2020 at 10:38 am
                The pandemic Covid-19 is very scary I can not believe that Italy has had 10,000 cases.
                • jk9
                  jk9Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 9:18 am
                  My brother bigdog12 really likes to wear ties around the house and his birthday is coming up next month
                  • jk9
                    jk9Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 9:16 am
                    What would happen if I told you.I school name
                    • animereina25
                      animereina25Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 7:13 am
                      I am not going to have school anymore for the rest of the school year... Instead, I am going to do work online until summer... This is not good or me because this is my first year in sixth grade, and I wanted to have a good start in it... 6th grade does not seem to be my year....
                      • galaxy52
                        galaxy52Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 9:59 am
                        I know how you feel. It's my first year at a new school too, and I am in 6th grade.