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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1488 Comments
  • wavebreaker
    wavebreakerWednesday, September 30, 2020 at 6:37 pm
    WASH HANDS EVERYONE!!! :)
    • bookfan2008
      bookfan2008Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 2:50 pm
      I had my first day of in person today! I liked seeing my friends but I'm thing of changing to virtual, I feel like there is WAY to many people there at once! I'm not sure if I will tho because my teacher is really nice and I had here in 2nd grade... Any advice?
      • galaxyninja
        galaxyninjaWednesday, September 30, 2020 at 1:50 pm
        cool i start in person next thursday
        • roxanne3
          roxanne3Wednesday, September 30, 2020 at 9:59 am
          I'm home schooled, sooo... If I were given the option to go in person I definitely would, because I consider myself a very social person and this was supposed to be my first year of middle school!! Really though, your choice!! Good luck!
          • rosepinklegend3
            rosepinklegend3Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 5:45 pm
            My fist day of in-person learning was a month ago. I have 27 people in my class and I am going 4 days a week.
          • 0w0
            0w0Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 10:25 pm
            I know that adults get COVID19 more than kids
            • tumbledancer_12
              tumbledancer_12Wednesday, September 23, 2020 at 3:31 pm
              So, I have COVID. It's really not bad so far, but I was only tested yesterday. Today I have a little bit of a sore throat, some congestion, and a little bit of a cough, but that's it. Has anyone else gotten it? I can relate!
              • 1782748
                1782748Saturday, September 19, 2020 at 4:55 pm
                hope you guys are all staying safe. we can get through this- I hope but most likely yes bye bye
                • katnissparis777
                  katnissparis777Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 6:06 am
                  Time-Traveller: What year should I time travel to? Me: 2020, yeah... wouldn't recommend it.
                  • janan10
                    janan10Wednesday, September 16, 2020 at 10:37 am
                    im doing online school and its really boring
                    • wolf-angle
                      wolf-angleSunday, September 13, 2020 at 2:03 pm
                      I'm going to school🏫
                      • finstate
                        finstateSunday, September 13, 2020 at 10:06 am
                        Online school same
                        • bookworms4ever
                          bookworms4everFriday, September 11, 2020 at 1:56 pm
                          Is anyone else doing remote learning? I am. Stay safe, bookworms4ever