The US is officially COVID-19′s epicenter

The US now has more than 85,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China in December and now spreading on every continent save for Antarctica. An increase of 15,000 known cases in just one day pushed the US past Italy and China, making it the new epicenter of the pandemic.

“This could have been stopped by implementing testing and surveillance much earlier—for example, when the first imported cases were identified,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York, told The New York Times.

Experts suspect the actual number of US cases is much higher than currently reported: While President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed the nation is leading the pack in testing its residents, the US has tested a far lower percentage of its large population than other hard-hit countries. New York has been responsible for about a quarter of all COVID-19 tests in the country. As around half the confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide have been diagnosed in New York, estimates elsewhere in the US are likely far from accurate.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. You can read more about the virus and what we know about its origins here. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, and a dry cough. Symptoms are mild in the vast majority of cases, and the virus may spread even with no noticeable symptoms present. But for some patients the virus can lead to deadly pneumonia. This is especially common in those over the age of 60 as well as people with underlying health problems, but hospitals around the world are reporting many life-threatening and even fatal cases in young, otherwise healthy patients as well. The risk may be lower for a teenager than it is for a senior, but that risk is far from nonexistent. No one should assume that COVID-19 would not put their life at risk.

How serious is COVID-19 in the United States?

As of Thursday, the US had more confirmed COVID-19 cases than anywhere else in the world. The country has at least 85,381 confirmed cases and more than 1,200 deaths. New York is the current epicenter of the disease, with hospitals already reporting shortages of protective gear for workers and life-saving ventilators for patients.

“Who does that ventilator belong to? These are questions that, you know, I think about when I go home at night and fortunately, haven’t had to make those decisions yet,” Kamini Doobay, a third-year medical resident who works at New York University Langone Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital, told the AP. “But we’re getting there.”

But while New York is facing a healthcare crisis, COVID-19 isn’t done spreading elsewhere. Epidemiologists are eying New Orleans, Louisiana as a potential hotspot in the coming days. New York’s density, large population, and high rate of tourists and business travelers makes it an obvious place for the virus to crest first, but COVID-19 will likely hit other cities—and even more rural areas—just as hard.

As Ed Yong reported this week in The Atlantic, the US has missed its chance to implement widespread testing as a preventative measure: The outbreak is already here, and hospitals are under too much strain to facilitate the testing of people with mild symptoms or none at all. Experts say it’s time to focus our testing efforts on healthcare workers like doctors, nurses, and hospital support staff, while everyone else simply isolates themselves as if they might already have the disease.

More than 3.3 million people in the US have already filed for unemployment due to an unprecedented shutdown of businesses across the country. More are expected to do so in the coming weeks. The Senate voted unanimously to pass an unprecedented $2.2 trillion stimulus bill on Wednesday, which the House of Representatives is expected to approve on Friday. You can read more about what the stimulus bill would mean for you here.

Should I be staying at home to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19?

Yes. Everyone should be practicing “social distancing” to limit the spread of COVID-19 and “flatten the curve.” Ideally, one should stay at least six feet away from all other people, but maintaining contact with your family members is okay as long as you’re all doing your best to avoid getting close to people outside the household. Even if you don’t have symptoms at all, spending as much time as possible in isolation means you’re lowering the risk that you will catch and spread COVID-19 to someone vulnerable.

Implementing preventative, social-distancing measures will reduce the number of people who are sick at one time. Without such measures, many people get sick all at once, leading to a tall, narrow curve. Social distancing can flatten the curve—just as many people may get sick overall, but they’ll be spread out over time. For a healthcare system, especially an overwhelmed one, it’s far better to have a million people sick over the course of a year than have that same million sick in the span of three months.

The Washington Post has an excellent interactive graphic to demonstrate the importance of social distancing, if you don’t understand why it’s important.

How serious is COVID-19 globally?

There are now more than 540,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and around 25,000 people have died. While diagnoses and fatalities seem to have leveled off in China, where COVID-19 originated in December, and South Korea, which was one of the first concerning hotspots for the disease, they continue to rise rapidly in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Iran, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

What can I do to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

It is also important to practice social distancing if you are able, even if your area is not yet considered to be in the midst of an active outbreak, and to be diligent about washing your hands if you have to go out and interact with people. Do not go out to bars or restaurants; ordering takeout (or, even better, delivery left at your front door) is the best way to get food from your favorite local business. Trips outside the home should be limited to isolated exercise (jogging by yourself in an area without crowds, for example) and getting medicine and groceries, while maintaining six feet of distance from other people. You should wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face while out conducting essential errands.

source: popsci.com by Rachel Feltman

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