• Chinese authorities detected a new outbreak of coronavirus disease in December 2019.
  • The new coronavirus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, causes the disease COVID-19.
  • The death toll from the disease is now around 4,900 worldwide.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that’s been updated since it was first published. Healthline will continue to update this article when there’s new information.

Chinese scientists have identified a previously unknown type of coronavirus as the cause of a recent pneumonia outbreak in the city of Wuhan.

The current situation follows the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and first detection of Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2012.

The spread of the new disease COVID-19 has started to take a toll in the United States in both large and small ways.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden both took the opportunity to explain what they believe are the most effective actions we can take against the current COVID-19 crisis.

In only the second Oval Office address of Mr. Trump’s presidency, he laid out his plan to deal with the health crisis currently facing the United States, one facet of which is restricting international travel.

“To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground,” said Trump during his address.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, in his own speech on the pandemic emphasized the universal nature of the risk COVID-19 presents.

“This disease could impact every nation and any person on the planet, we need a plan about how we’re going to aggressively manage here at home,” said Biden. He also forcefully disagreed that restricting travel is an effective method of containing the virus.

The NBA has suspended the rest of the season after a player on the Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus. Players on five other teams the Jazz played in recent days will also need to be quarantined.

This morning, team officials announced a second player on the team had tested positive for the virus.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on gatherings of 500 people, which effectively means all shows on Broadway will be canceled.

This afternoon the President of the NCAA announced that the iconic March Madness basketball tournament will be canceled.

In addition to these major cancellations, celebrities are now being affected by the virus.

Actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced on Twitter they have contracted the novel coronavirus. They were in Australia, where Hanks is shooting a movie when they started to develop symptoms.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global pandemic due to the spread of COVID-19.

“In the past two weeks the number of cases of COVID-19 outside of China has increased 13-fold and the number of infected countries has tripled,” said Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO.

“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and the alarming levels of inaction. COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” he said.

Globally, more than 132,000 people have contracted the disease and at least 4,900 deaths have occurred according to the New York Times.

U.S. cases have topped 1,500 and at least 39 people have died.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a congressional hearing on Mar. 11 that Americans should be prepared for the outbreak to get worse in the coming days and weeks.

“We have got to assume it is going to get worse and worse and worse,” he said, according to the New York Times.

He continued, “We cannot look at it and say, ‘Well, there are only a couple of cases here, that’s good.’ Because a couple of cases today are going to [be] many, many cases tomorrow.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has called in the national guard to assist with combating the new coronavirus.

National guard members will help in a containment area centered in the town of New Rochelle just outside of New York City.

A 1-mile radius around the most severe cases will mean public gatherings and school are banned. National guard members will assist with cleaning public areas and ensuring that people have access to food.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed publicly available data to find the virus has roughly a 5-day incubation period from exposure to onset of symptoms.

The analysis also suggests that about 98 percent of people who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of exposure.

Researchers said this average time from exposure to onset of symptoms suggests the CDC’s 14-day quarantine period for people who were likely exposed to the virus is reasonable.

Another recent study from Sun Yat-sen University in China has discovered that SARS-CoV-2 may have an ideal temperature at which it spreads most easily.

Researchers analyzed the cumulative number of all confirmed cases in all affected cities and regions from Jan. 20 to Feb. 4, 2020. Their findings suggest it spreads most easily at about 48°F (8.89°C).

“The study found that, to certain extent, temperature could significantly change COVID-19 transmission, and there might be a best temperature for the viral transmission, which may partly explain why it first broke out in Wuhan,” wrote the study authors. “It is suggested that countries and regions with a lower temperature in the world adopt the strictest control measures to prevent future reversal.”

The CDC now estimates that over the next year, many people in the United States will be exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

“It’s fair to say that, as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus. And there’s a good chance many will become sick,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), said in a telebriefing with reporters on Mar. 9.

“But again, based on what we know about this virus, we do not expect most people to develop serious illness,” Messonnier added.

Cases of COVID-19 in the United States have reached more than 1,500.

In Washington state, where 29 people have died, the University of Washington announced it will no longer hold classes on campus for the rest of the quarter and instead rely on online courses.

Stanford University in California is also turning to online courses for the rest of the term.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said we’re seeing an “acceleration of cases,” and that if the spread of the virus gets much worse, local or federal government officials may start to impose more serious restrictions on travel or social gatherings.

When asked on “Fox News” whether the United States may try to impose a similar lockdown as the Italian government did, Fauci replied: “Given the spread we’ve seen, you know, anything’s possible. And that’s the reason why we’ve got to be prepared to take whatever action is appropriate to contain and mitigate the outbreak.”

In Italy, where cases of COVID-19 have soared in recent weeks, the government is effectively locking down the country.

The prime minister of Italy declared that bars and restaurants will close at 6 p.m. and that leaving the home should be restricted except for work or a few other select errands.

Recorded cases in Italy spiked to more than 12,000 in recent weeks. Reported deaths rose to 827.

With increasing numbers of people reporting symptoms of COVID-19 across the country, local health departments are warning they don’t have enough testing kits.

Recently, a letter from Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, the deputy mayor of health and human services in New York, reported the city was given just two test kits.

“New York City must receive additional testing kits as soon as they are available from the CDC,” Perea-Henze wrote in the letter. “With multiple positive cases, NYC needs maximum testing capacity to enable successful implementation of the public health strategies that best protect New Yorkers. The slow federal action on this matter has impeded our ability to beat back this epidemic.”

After initial test kits sent by the CDC were delayed in February, the federal government has come under increased pressure to provide test kits for SARS-CoV-2 in order to gauge the extent of the spread in the United States.

Nurses are also sounding an alarm over a lack of preparedness.

A survey by the union that represents nurses, National Nurses United, found a significant portion of nurses say they feel hospitals are unprepared for a major outbreak of COVID-19.

The survey included responses by 6,500 nurses in 48 states. It found a significant number of them don’t have clear information about how to handle patients who may be suspected of having SARS-CoV-2.

Nearly a quarter said they’re not sure if there’s a plan to isolate patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

A 70-year-old law called the Defense Production Act allows the president to speed production of materials for purposes of national security.

Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II confirmed it might be used to speed production of COVID-19-related medical supplies on Feb. 28, according to The New York Times.

“I don’t have any procurements I need it for now, but if I need it, we’ll use it,” Azar told reporters at a White House briefing on the administration’s request to Congress for emergency funds to respond to the virus.

Azar also said that if SARS-CoV-2 began spreading widely, those showing mild symptoms shouldn’t seek help at hospitals. Instead, they should stay home to avoid the risk of overcrowding health facilities.

Researchers from Mount Sinai confirmed they may be able to use CT scans to speed diagnosis of individuals with symptoms of COVID-19.

The New York-based researchers published their findings in the journal Radiology after analyzing the scans of 94 patients in China admitted to the hospital for treatment.

“Mount Sinai Health System physicians — the first experts in the country to analyze chest computed tomography (CT) scans of patients from China with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) — have identified specific patterns in the lungs as markers of the disease as it develops over the course of a week and a half,” Mount Sinai said in a statement.

According to researchers, out of 36 patients scanned from 0 to 2 days after reporting symptoms, more than half didn’t show evidence of lung disease — which suggests that CT scans can’t rule out disease early.

In 33 patients scanned 3 to 5 days after symptoms, the radiologists detected hazy findings in the lungs called “ground glass opacities,” indicative of the disease.

Patients examined 6 to 12 days afterward universally showed signs of lung disease.

“If coronavirus should continue to spread and impact the United States or elsewhere more significantly, this study equips radiologists with the knowledge to recognize and more confidently suggest if a patient has COVID-19 or pneumonia due to another cause,” said co-author Dr. Michael Chung, assistant professor of diagnostic, molecular, and interventional radiology at the Icahn School of Medicine, in a statement.

However, a recent case study finds conclusive evidence that someone who shows no symptoms can still transmit the virus to others.

Chinese researchers confirmed that a young woman from Wuhan transmitted the virus to her family while never showing symptoms herself.

Also, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) analyzed records of China’s reported cases of COVID-19 from Dec. 8 to Feb. 11 to find that a little more than 1 percent of patients with the virus showed no sign of infection.

Researchers are studying how people who’ve contracted the virus shed it, and what impact that’s having on affected populations.

One new study has found answers that many won’t find comforting.

Testing and confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 is currently carried out by oral swabs. But research published Feb. 17 in Emerging Microbes & Infections finds evidence that there’s an oral-fecal transmission route.

The scientists reported that its genetic material was detected in both anal swabs and blood samples.

“We detected the virus in oral swabs, anal swabs, and blood, thus infected patients can potentially shed this pathogen through respiratory, fecal-oral, or body fluid routes,” the study authors wrote.

Chinese researchers conducted the study in a Wuhan, China, hospital, and analyzed samples collected from about 180 patients.

Crucially, evidence of SARS-CoV-2 was found in anal swabs and blood — even when it wasn’t detected using oral swabs. According to the study, this was particularly true for those people receiving supportive care for several days.

Findings also suggest that timing is an important factor.

On day 1 of the illness, 80 percent of oral swabs were SARS-CoV-2-positive, but by day 5, 75 percent of anal swabs were positive, while only half of the oral swabs showed infection, according to the study.

“These results confirm that COVID-19 patients have live virus in stool specimens, which is a new finding in the transmission routes of 2019-nCoV,” wrote authors of a study, published by the CCDC publication CCDC Weekly.

This means that sneezing isn’t the only way for transmission. Blood and fecal matter can carry the virus, even when conventional testing comes back negative.

“The virus can also be transmitted through the potential fecal-oral route. This means that stool samples may contaminate hands, food, water, etc., and may cause infection by invading the oral cavity, respiratory mucosa, conjunctiva, etc,” study authors concluded.

Although medical staff, people with illnesses, and older adults are most at risk, more than 80 percent of COVID-19 cases have been mild, according to a report from the CCDC.

The Hubei province in China, where the infection is believed to have originated, is the hardest hit, according to the report.

The province’s death rate is almost 3 percent, compared with just under a half percent in the rest of the country.

The WHO announced on Feb. 11 that the disease caused by the new coronavirus originating in China would now be called COVID-19.

Basically, the virus itself is called SARS-CoV-2, and the disease that results from the virus is COVID-19.

Previously, it had been called 2019nCoV, although many media outlets referred to it simply as “coronavirus,” even though that refers to a larger family of viruses.

China state media reported that some of the people who fell ill between Dec. 12 and 29 are sellers from a local wholesale seafood market.

According to the WHO, initial information about the pneumonia cases in Wuhan, provided by Chinese authorities, pointed to the coronavirus as the pathogen causing this cluster.

Chinese authorities reported that laboratory tests ruled out SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, and other common infectious agents.

More than 8,000 people contracted the SARS virus, and almost 800 died in the 2002 epidemic.

The SARS virus spread to nearly 40 countries in 2002 and 2003. The same type of virus was associated with a similar outbreak of MERS, which was first identified in 2013 in Saudi Arabia.

According to the WHO, MERS has been responsible for about 850 deaths worldwide.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, with some causing less severe disease, like the common cold. Although some easily transmit from person to person, others don’t.

“Corona means ‘crown,’ so these viruses appear crown-shaped when looked at under an electron microscope,” said Dr. Bhanu Sud, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Medical Center in Placentia, California.

“Most coronaviruses are harmless,” he said. “They’ll usually cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people will get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives.”

Sud emphasizes that while the outlook is good for most people who contract this type of virus, the SARS and MERS strains are more serious.

The death rate is around 10 percent for people with SARS and 30 percent for those with the MERS variant.

According to Sud, human coronaviruses most commonly transmit from an infected person to others via:

  • 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

“In the United States, people usually get infected with common human coronaviruses in the fall and winter. However, infection can occur at any time of the year,” he said.

“Most people will get infected with one or more of the common human coronaviruses in their lifetime,” he added.

Sud also points out both SARS and MERS outbreaks were from animal-to-human contact, with SARS most likely from contact with bats and MERS from contact with camels.

“Since the organism causing infection is a virus, to date, we don’t have any specific antiviral medications,” Sud said.

What to Do If You Have Symptoms of COVID-19

If you have COVID-19 or suspect you have the virus that causes COVID-19, you should seek medical care.

You have several options for obtaining medical care, including being seen by your primary healthcare provider. The CDC recommends calling your provider first so that they can take the necessary steps to prepare for your visit and protect others from possible exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Some healthcare providers also offer virtual visits through your smartphone or laptop, so you may not need to leave your home for an initial assessment.

If you don’t have a primary healthcare provider, you can use this tool to find a local primary care office in your area.

If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Notify the operator that you have COVID-19 or suspect exposure to the virus that causes it. If possible, put on a face mask before emergency medical services arrive.

Disclosure: Healthline maintains a partnership with some of the providers linked above and may receive compensation for services provided.

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