On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the current COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus outbreak, a pandemic. While this does not change the statistics about or spread of this disease, it should heighten awareness among our global and local communities.
At the time of this writing, the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center reports 127,863 confirmed cases globally, with 1,323 of those within the United States. Total reported deaths worldwide are currently 4,718. Although the statistics are evolving, older people and anyone with an underlying condition (e.g., heart disease) are at an increased risk for complications and death. Therefore, each and every one of us has the ability and the obligation to do what we can in an effort to mitigate the effects of this disease.
There is no vaccine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we all take the following precautions:
- Clean your hands often
- Avoid close contact
- Stay home if you are sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Wear a facemask if you are sick
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
COVID-19 is caused by a novel virus, meaning it is new; consequently, there is a lack of clarity about exactly how this disease will behave. However, one aspect is clear: now is the time for action. In his March 11 remarks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked countries to do more to stop the pandemic.
“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” Ghebreysesus said.
In response to the new coronavirus, communities with and without known case clusters are acting. In New Rochelle, New York, a containment area has been established around what is currently the largest novel coronavirus cluster in the United States. Throughout the world, sports leagues are being suspended. Schools are being closed. Meetings are being canceled.
Most relevant for us living in Athens may be the response of leadership at the University of Georgia. College campuses across the country are advising against large gatherings, facilitating the return of students studying abroad, extending spring break and suspending in-person classes to move to an online format. Even colleges and universities that are not in the epicenter of a known outbreak are taking measures to protect students, faculty, staff, families, the elderly and other local citizens.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, suggested that cases will continue to increase and the situation will worsen. Our decisions will, in part, determine how this story ends. Dr. Fauci believes the trajectory will depend on containing the migration of infected people into the United States and, perhaps most importantly, our “ability to contain and mitigate within our own country.” The time to act is now.