The Coronavirus Outbreak Has Reached the U.S.: Are You Protected?

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The coronavirus outbreak continues to ramp up, with six U.S. deaths and cases of the virus appearing in 15 states. Here is your essential update on what you need to know. 

The facts

As of March 3, there are 92,835 people affected and 3,168 deaths from coronavirus (COVID-19). The virus has appeared in 60 countries. 

The virus itself has not changed genetically. The good news is that it can be managed and contained with the correct procedures in place. 

Originating in China, there has been a sudden increase in cases in Italy, Iran, and South Korea. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the coronavirus epidemic a public health emergency of international concern, but not yet a pandemic. 

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are types of viruses that are transmitted from animals. The current strain, COVID-19, is a new virus that hasn’t been seen before. It originated in Wuhan, China at a food market. The dangerous part of the virus is that it affects the lungs and can cause pneumonia if it progresses. Symptoms include coughing, trouble breathing, and fever. Severe cases can lead to organ failure and death. 

Coronavirus symptoms

People infected with coronavirus generally have pneumonia-like symptoms at first that can then evolve to more serious conditions including septic shock, acute kidney injury, virus-induced cardiac injury, and secondary bacterial pneumonia.

The symptoms of the virus are mostly respiratory, but can include the following: 

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Trouble breathing

The disease is especially a threat to those who are elderly, infirm, who have other preexisting conditions, or who have compromised immune systems.

Coronavirus can still be transmitted from person to person even without the appearance of symptoms. 

A cure?

There is no cure for the coronavirus. Researchers are working on developing a coronavirus vaccine. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants the vaccine to be covered by Medicare when it does become available.

Schumer said: “My plan to have Medicare fully cover the cost of the vaccine will mean no senior will be forced to make the choice between shelling out and going without.” He is suggesting that the U.S. create an $8.5 billion plan, larger than the $2.5 billion requested by the Trump administration. However, a vaccine will require months of tests and wouldn’t be released for a year. 

Since it is viral, antibiotics will not help with the disease. Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center are researching the antiviral drug remdesivir to treat coronavirus. 

Coronavirus in the U.S.

As of now, six people have died of coronavirus in Washington State. There are over 100 confirmed cases in the U.S. and that number could rise. The states affected so far include Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, Wisconsin, Ilinios, Georgia, Florida, New York, New Hampshire,  Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. 

The first U.S. death was confirmed on Saturday, a man in his 50s in Washington state. It is believed to be spreading in communities now, as it’s appearing in people who never traveled to China or other countries that have been greatly affected.

President Trump has put Vice President Pence in place to head the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. has set up a containment strategy, set up travel restrictions, and assembled a coronavirus task force that meets every day.

Coronavirus testing 

The Trump administration said that nearly 1 million testing kits should be available for use by the end of the week, and public health labs can do large quantities of testing as well. Officials are working on getting more tests available and streamlining the process. 

The good news is that now Medicare Part B will cover coronavirus testing on or after February 4, 2020. Note that your doctor will need to wait until after April 1, 2020 to submit a claim to Medicare for the testing. 

Response to the threat

In countries like Italy and France, major museums such as the Louvre are closing down and people are being asked not to greet one another with kisses or handshakes and to stand six feet apart from each other. 

The U.S. people are canceling or electing not to attend big events where a lot of people will be close  together in confined places. For example, many writers and teachers are electing not to attend the 2020 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in San Antonio this week due to the recent release from quarantine of a Hubei province evacuee who was found to have COVID-19. 

In addition, top tech companies Facebook and Intel are not attending the SXSW (South by Southwest) festival in Austin later this month due to coronavirus threat, and Twitter has recently told its employees to work from home to stay healthy.  

What you can do

The Guardian reports important recommendations for those who could have come into contact with the virus, including:

  • Wash hands often and thoroughly.
  • Cough into your elbow, and use tissues when you cough or sneeze.
  • Use face masks.
  • If you have traveled in China, Iran, South Korea, or Italy in the past two weeks, remain indoors and avoid contact with other people for 14 days.
  • If you have visited one of these places and are feeling sick, don’t leave your home until you have spoken to a doctor about the next steps to take.

Although there are fewer cases of coronavirus than there are of the common flu, the death rate is higher so far for coronavirus, at around 2 percent compared to 1 percent for the flu. More data are needed to determine the mortality rate for certain.

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