As the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) makes its way across the globe, our healthcare system is ramping up to plan, risk assess, and manage patient care during this global healthcare crisis. SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus that causes the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). At Orchard Software, we are proud to work with laboratories that are working to rapidly diagnose and contain the spread of the disease. This is the first of a COVID-19 blog post series to help add some clarity to the situation.
First Detected in December, Progressing Quickly
COVID-19 was first detected in December 2019, in Wuhan, China, Hubei province, and is now prevalent in 116 countries/regions internationally.
- On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). A PHEIC is declared when an extraordinary event poses a public health threat to other nations through the spread of disease and requires a robust, coordinated, international response.
- On March 11, 2020, WHO classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic, crossing international borders, affecting a large number of people. Epidemiologists classify a situation as a pandemic once the disease is sustained in the newly-affected regions through local transmission.
COVID-19 Current Status (up to March 12, 2020)
The number of cases of COVID-19 continues to climb at an alarming rate, raising concerns that our healthcare systems will rapidly reach overload. Data as of March 12, 2020, report: 127,863 global cases confirmed; 68,310 patients recovered; and 4,718 deaths. Specific to the U.S., there were 1,323 cases and 38 deaths.
Initially, in Wuhan, there was thought to be a link to a seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, it was determined that COVID-19 spreads person-to-person, and now some locations (including the U.S.) report community spread. Community spread means that it is unknown how or where a person was exposed.
COVID-19 & SARS
The virus that causes COVID-19 and the one that caused the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 are related to each other genetically, but the diseases they cause are quite different. SARS was more deadly, but much less infectious, than COVID-19. There have been no outbreaks of SARS anywhere in the world since 2003.
COVID-19’s symptoms are similar to the flu and include fever, lethargy, and a dry cough. Some patients experience achiness, nasal congestion, sore throat, or diarrhea. Others may become infected but not develop symptoms. About 80% of infected patients recover without treatment. However, one out of six people who contract COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops pneumonia or other respiratory distress. In particular, people older than 65, and those with underlying medical conditions, are more likely to develop serious illness.
We are learning more about COVID-19 as we go. Currently, there is some conflicting information about the method of transmission. COVID-19 (like the flu) is definitely transmitted via droplets in the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing, or talking. However, unlike the flu, there is some evidence that COVID-19 might be spread through an airborne route, meaning that microscopic particles remaining in the air could infect others even after the infected person is no longer there. The CDC is recommending that healthcare facilities follow airborne-spread precautions while WHO recommends following droplet-spread precautions.
COVID-19’s incubation period is estimated to be between one and 14 days, but some sources indicate that viral shedding may go on much longer, prolonging the time a person is considered contagious. These estimates will be updated as more data become available.
The COVID-19 crisis is changing rapidly, and a vaccine is said to be possibly more than a year away. There is still more to understand about the long-term effects and fatality rates of COVID-19. Overall, fatalities average around two percent, which is about 20 times higher than the seasonal flu. See infographic for more COVID-19 versus influenza comparisons. Even though the death rate overall is much less than the flu, experts are concerned that our healthcare systems could become overwhelmed with COVID-19’s rapid spread.