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Global map indicating which countries have confirmed COVID-19 cases. As of 8am PT February 27, 2020. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Coronavirus COVID-19 – what you should know

It is hard to avoid reports and stories about a new type of coronavirus that has begun spreading beyond its origin in China to other countries around the globe. Most concerning about the COVID-19 coronavirus is it appears to have a 2% mortality rate, which is about 20-times higher than influenza (the flu) while being easily transmitted between humans.

On January 21st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Washington State Department of Health (WA Health) announced the first case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States was in Snohomish County. The patient had recently been in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, where an outbreak of the virus had been ongoing since December.

According to WA Health,

  • COVID-19 is a new respiratory virus
  • There are no treatments for it
  • Most people will recover on their own, but some people can develop pneumonia and require medical care or hospitalization 

As of February 26th, 29 people in Washington State had been tested for the virus, 26 showed negative results, 1 was the previously mentioned confirmed positive case in Snohomish County and there are 2 persons under investigation awaiting lab results. 355 people are classified as “under public health supervision.” This includes those at risk of having been exposed to the virus and are having their health monitored under the supervision of public health officials.

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Coronaviruses are common and most types are far less concerning as they typically infect animals. In humans, most types typically cause mild respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold.

Some facts provided by WA Health:

How is it spread?

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Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:

  • The air by coughing and sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
  • Rarely, fecal contamination with coronavirus present

Symptoms of coronavirus are similar to flu or colds and may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell

If you have traveled to/from Wuhan City, China, and have these symptoms, contact a health care provider.

There are steps people should take to reduce their risk of getting and spreading any viral respiratory infections. They include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
  • Stay at home and away from others if you are feeling ill.

The last time the world experienced something along the order of this COVID-19 outbreak was the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China between November 2002 and July 2003 that was also caused by another type of coronavirus. In comparison, COVID-19 has, since the outbreak began in December, led to more deaths than SARS, even though SARS had a much higher mortality rate (9%). During the outbreak of SARS, there were 8,100 cases worldwide and almost 800 deaths. In comparison, there have been more than 82,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and over 2,800 deaths, 70 of those occurring outside China.

There was also the “swine flu” pandemic which infected somewhere between 10% and 20% of the world population from early 2009 to late 2010. But, while being extremely contagious, it had a lower fatality rate of between 0.01% and 0.08%.

US, state and county public health officials are on the alert to quickly respond to any indications of patients infected with the COVID-19 virus in order to prevent localized flare ups. One nearby example can be found in King County where classes at Bothell High School in the North Shore School District in King County were canceled. This was done after an employee who had recently returned from traveling internationally with family discovered a family member had started feeling sick Tuesday. The family member is now under a 14-day quarantine and being tested for COVID-19.

Travel restrictions and other impacts due to the outbreak are expected to create challenges that will impact businesses. Reportedly in response to news of how businesses may be disrupted globally by the outbreak, nearly all financial markets suffered record drops in value this week.

Graph of New York Stock Exchange daily market closings as of February 27, 2020. Source: MSN

According a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Public-health officials have told Americans to expect the virus to spread in the U.S. That could lead to school closures, public-event cancellations and business disruptions across industries from restaurants and tourism to manufacturing.”

The WSJ article also noted, “U.S. apparel and footwear companies are facing supply-chain delays, which could result in a shortage of spring goods. Toy aisles may be bare as production of Barbies and Nerf guns in China flattened. And containership operators have canceled 40 sailings at the Port of Los Angeles through April 1, mostly for vessels coming from China.”

Companies, like Microsoft, have been announcing concerns the outbreak would negatively impact 2020 projections.

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