January 27, 2020
A novel coronavirus that originated in China late last year sparked global concerns that continue to grow as the death toll mounts and the illness spreads to other countries, including the United States.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the risk to Americans still remains low, as the virus is not widely circulating in most communities. But officials still consider the virus a serious threat and they expect additional U.S. cases to accumulate in the days to come.
As of Thursday, the new coronavirus had spread to at least 125 countries. In the United States, there were 1,289 confirmed cases in 44 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. There had been 37 deaths.
With public concerns rising, here's what you need to know about the coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause respiratory illness similar to the common cold. Most cause mild symptoms, but some can lead to more severe illnesses, including pneumonia and other respiratory complications.
Most coronaviruses spread among animals, including camels and bats, but they sometimes evolve to infect humans, according to the CDC.
Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The most recently identified types are the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome(SARS) and the 2019 coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, which causes the illness COVID-19.
Human coronaviruses are spread by close personal contact, including coughing, sneezing and touching contaminated objects and surfaces. The novel coronavirus appears first to have been spread through animal sources, but is now spreading person-to-person.
Ma Xiaowei, the head of China's National Health Commission, has warned that this coronavirus can be contagious even before symptoms present, according to the New York Times. That's unlike SARS, which caused 8,098 illnesses, including 774 deaths, worldwide during a 2003 outbreak.
The incubation period for COVID-19 is about 2 to 14 days.
Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. They may appear as short as two days after exposure or as long as 14 days after exposure. They do not include a runny nose – a symptom indicative of the common cold.
Older people and those with underlying health conditions, including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, appear to be at greater risk for developing a serious illness, according to the CDC.
Anyone who has traveled to a COVID-19 hotspot – or has been near someone who has – should contact their health care provider immediately if they develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath, CDC officials said.
They should report their symptoms and travel history before visiting the doctor's office or emergency department. The health care provider will then notify infection control and the state health department to ensure the right precautions are taken to prevent the virus from spreading further.
Any Philadelphia doctor now has the capability to order a test for coronavirus. State labs, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics also can test for it.
There is no known medication to treat COVID-19 and a vaccine is expected to take at least a year to develop.
Treatment for those who do not need hospital care includes isolating themselves at home. Those who have been in close contact with those infected also are directed to self-quarantine for 14 days while keeping a "social" distance from sick family members.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has described social distancing as staying a "certain number of feet" away from them at all times.
Health experts stress that the best way to prevent illness is to practice good hygiene, avoid close contact with sick individuals and frequently disinfect common surfaces and objects, like cell phones.
Washing hands with soap and water is more effective than hand sanitizer, health experts say.
Face masks provide little benefit to healthy people. They only should be worn by sick individuals and health care workers, the CDC says.
Across the country, some states and municipalities have implemented restrictions on public gatherings. St. Patrick's Day parades have been cancelled in several cities, including Philadelphia. In sports, the NBA has suspended its season and the NCAA is planning to play March Madness without fans.
As coronavirus cases continue to grow in the Philadelphia region, businesses and schools are preparing for a possible outbreak.
Employers are closing offices and urging employees to work from home when not feeling well. Some shifting to online classes.
Some public schools also have closed to help prevent the spread of the virus. Germantown Academy will be closed for most of March.
The CDC also has recommended that universities call back students from study abroad programs.
U.S. travel restrictions remain in place for most foreign nationals who have been to China and Iran. Additionally, the U.S. has suspended travel from Europe, excluding the United Kingdom, for 30 days. The restrictions do not affect U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea and most of Europe. For Japan, which also has a significant number of coronavirus cases, there is only a travel advisory for older adults with chronic medical conditions.
Travelers also have been cautioned by the U.S. Department of State to avoid travel by cruise ship at this time. The CDC is urging everyone, but particularly the elderly and those at high medical risk, to avoid long plane rides and crowded places.
U.S. citizens returning from infected areas may be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. The CDC continues to monitor the situation very closely and continues to provide regular updates here.
Update: This story was edited on Thursday, March 12, 2020, to reflect the latest information available on the coronavirus.