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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1798 Comments
  • kittylover1fan
    kittylover1fanTuesday, May 11, 2021 at 5:34 pm
    If your 12 and older, get vaccinated!
    • sydney_zepp
      sydney_zeppTuesday, May 11, 2021 at 11:15 am
      Can't wait until no more masks! I know the virus is still around, but I think the numbers are going down. They keep shifting up and down, but it isn't getting worse, definitely just better.
      • wolfieland
        wolfielandTuesday, May 11, 2021 at 6:07 am
        My aunt's grandma passed away from covid 😞 So please try to wash your hands for atleast 20 seconds and get the vaccine as soon as you can.
        • sydney_zepp
          sydney_zeppWednesday, May 12, 2021 at 6:33 am
          Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry! I don't know anyone who passed away from COVID, but I do know to people who got pneumonia. One was 72 and the other was 95 or 96 and she has gotten pneumonia from a cold before. I had gotten COVID, but it was actually less bad than a cold... I hope the rest of your family is doing good!
          • zoebro
            zoebroWednesday, May 12, 2021 at 5:53 am
            It's so sad that people are dying from thissss
            • kittylover1fan
              kittylover1fanTuesday, May 11, 2021 at 5:33 pm
              Omg, I am so sorry @wolfieland!
              • iris_shadowfire
                iris_shadowfireTuesday, May 11, 2021 at 8:19 am
                omg i am so sorry!!!! god bless wolfieland and her family r.i.p😭😭
              • kittylover111
                kittylover111Saturday, May 8, 2021 at 9:07 am
                Keep wearing masks, an PLZ GET VACCINATED!! Kids might be able to get it soon too! Wash your hands, and sanitize! Covid is still here!
                • sydney_zepp
                  sydney_zeppTuesday, May 4, 2021 at 4:15 pm
                  Hi everyone! COVID is slowly but surely going away, and yeah, it sucks that we had to live with it for so long and still are, but, while it will never completely go away, HOPEFULLY the cases will drop to a low enough number that we won't have to wear masks and everything will be mostly normal! #hope!
                  • sedjro
                    sedjroFriday, May 7, 2021 at 7:03 am
                    #hope
                  • rosepinklegend3
                    rosepinklegend3Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 3:28 pm
                    Things are really starting to open up in Utah!! Yay! Our state mask mandate ended like almost a month ago!
                    • sydney_zepp
                      sydney_zeppThursday, May 6, 2021 at 5:43 pm
                      I'm so happy for you! I wish PA would loose the mask mandate : (
                      • wolfieland
                        wolfielandWednesday, May 5, 2021 at 7:50 am
                        Good for you!
                      • fizzyizzy948
                        fizzyizzy948Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 2:33 pm
                        I cannot believe it's been over a year... Time flies 🕓
                        • kittylover111
                          kittylover111Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 8:06 am
                          It's so sad!
                        • lolgirly
                          lolgirlyFriday, April 30, 2021 at 11:50 am
                          I've been reading these comments and I just want to say, I know covid has been a disaster and its like the world is turning against us with the ice and the politic craziness and all but a vaccine came out and the scientists worked so hard. They are still work thier hardest for kids under the age of 16 to get the vaccine so we don't need to be rushing. I know how hard it is, I mean I live in Florida and its soooo hard to not go places because my entire life was fun and exciting before the outbreak happened but, we are all in this together and we don't have to be bored...find something to do! watch some new tv shows, play family games, have a small little family cookout with your household! Have a sleepover in your siblings room! There are still so many things you can do. So be confident! #staysafe #wearamask #socialdistance and most of all be happy!! <3
                          • zoebro
                            zoebroMonday, May 10, 2021 at 5:44 am
                            👍yo we all in this together bro👍
                            • sydney_zepp
                              sydney_zeppTuesday, May 11, 2021 at 4:30 pm
                              I agree, and even though some people can't be together, you can still talk to them over the phone and eventually it'll be fine to have them over with no masks, no social distancing, no covid. I can't wait!
                            • junewolf
                              junewolfWednesday, May 5, 2021 at 6:47 am
                              your messege is heart touching and also if u have your friends nunbers you can call right and see them even if your not beside them!!!!
                              • supporter
                                supporterSaturday, May 1, 2021 at 6:37 pm
                                Yes that is so true!!😁
                              • lolgirly
                                lolgirlyFriday, April 30, 2021 at 11:40 am
                                M mom and dad got the second and they are excited
                                • kittylover111
                                  kittylover111Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 12:25 pm
                                  Hi everyone! It's been a while since I have posted. Have you heard the newest CDC post?? If you are vaccinted you can have small barbuques without masks! And other cool stuff! Get vaccinated!
                                  • wolfieland
                                    wolfielandThursday, April 29, 2021 at 6:59 pm
                                    Thats great but I wish kids younger than 16 can get vaccinated :/
                                    • kittylover111
                                      kittylover111Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 1:40 pm
                                      Same!
                                      • roxanne3
                                        roxanne3Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 10:18 am
                                        I heard that Pfizer is almost ready to release their vaccine for ages 12-16!! I'm turning 13 in like a week so yay!!
                                        • 7sushigirl7
                                          7sushigirl7Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 8:12 am
                                          i don't think its a yay ik some peps who got it and their arm started to hurt
                                          • kittylover111
                                            kittylover111Monday, May 10, 2021 at 5:18 pm
                                            Well, it's better to have full immunity! And they can ice it.
                                          • wolfieland
                                            wolfielandWednesday, May 5, 2021 at 7:52 am
                                            I'm not even 12 what about 11 year olds?!
                                            • kittylover111
                                              kittylover111Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 1:41 pm
                                              Oh lucky! I'm 12 in december. I'm going to 6th grade in september, so at least the 12 year ups will have vaccines.
                                            • jazmine2008
                                              jazmine2008Friday, April 30, 2021 at 7:55 am
                                              YES!!!!! I AGREE!!!!!!!!!💖💖💖💖
                                              • confon
                                                confonFriday, April 30, 2021 at 9:11 am
                                                it all began in china
                                                • kittylover111
                                                  kittylover111Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 1:41 pm
                                                  Their still learning about it, and not sure.