The States became the epicenter of the new pandemic in late March, with the case count surging past China’s and the hardest-hit European nations’ as New York increased its testing capacity. The country now has nearly quadruple the number of cases detected in Italy and Spain, which are both also experiencing devastating outbreaks, though the rate per million people remains (at least for now) below either country’s. The US now has more cases per million residents than France, Germany, the UK, and dozens of other affected countries.
“Had we had done more testing from the very beginning and caught cases earlier,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, recently told The New York Times, “we would be in a far different place.”
The New York Times reported this week that many of the tests initially sent out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were in fact contaminated with the virus, making their results inconclusive.
“It was just tragic,” Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, told The New York Times. According to Baker, many public health labs realized almost immediately that the CDC’s testing kits were useless, and began reporting the problems to him. He alerted both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, but labs were left without a working test in the meantime. “All that time when we were sitting there waiting, I really felt like, here we were at one of the most critical junctures in public health history, and the biggest tool in our toolbox was missing,” he said.
Case numbers in the US are further clouded by the fact that the majority of tests have occurred within the New York area, which is considered the national hotspot for the disease. Infection rates in other regions are almost certainly under reported.
Some experts say the number of positive results among those tested in the US indicate we must be missing many of the infected in our tally. A recent report by Harvard University researchers argues we may need to conduct more than 500,000 tests a day from now until mid-May to safely reopen the country at that time.
“Without national unity and global solidarity, trust us, the worst is yet ahead of us,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news briefing on Monday. “Let’s prevent this tragedy. It’s a virus that many people still don’t understand.”
While COVID-19 is mild for most, the virus can lead to deadly pneumonia or heart problemsin some patients. 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 also reporting many life-threatening and even fatal cases in young, otherwise healthy patients. In the US, hundreds of people under the age of 50 have died so far.
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 in peril.
How serious is COVID-19 in the US?
As of Tuesday, the US had confirmed far more COVID-19 cases than anywhere else in the world. The country has at least 787,960 confirmed cases, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University, and more than 42,300 deaths.
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 rural areas—just as hard. At least 17 states now have more than 10,000 cases, and at least 42 have more than 1,000.
Ideally, you should remain 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 individuals outside the household. Even if you don’t have symptoms, spending as much time alone as possible 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 health care 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.
President Donald Trump announced last week that he would halt funding for the WHO, which leads global responses to outbreaks such as COVID-19, arguing that the organization had kept vital information on COVID-19 secret from the US government. But American researchers, physicians, and public health experts working for the WHO reportedly provided real-time information updates on the novel coronavirus as early as late 2019.
ProPublica reports that an internal White House memo warned Trump that cutting WHO funding would “erode America’s global standing, threaten US lives, and hobble global efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.”
It is also important to practice social distancing if you’re 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 essential medicine and groceries, while maintaining six feet of distance from other people. You should clean your hands frequently and avoid touching your face while out conducting essential errands.