COVID-19 Pandemic: What You Need To Know
Project HOPE teams have mobilized to respond to COVID-19, a global pandemic that has infected more than 200,000 people around the world. Get the facts about this developing story and learn more about how you can help.
COVID-19 is now a global pandemic.
Health officials around the world are rushing to contain the spread of COVID-19, a respiratory illness that has infected more than 200,000 people and killed over 8,000. What started as a mysterious illness has turned into a global pandemic with massive ramifications.
Project HOPE has mobilized our teams in high-risk countries, including China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Macedonia, and Indonesia to help support doctors and nurses on the front lines of the fight to save lives. Read on to learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic and how you can help.
Get The Facts: What You Need To Know and How To Help
What is COVID-19, and what is happening right now?
In December 2019, a new respiratory illness began to spread throughout Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million people in Hubei province. The disease, known as COVID-19, quickly infected tens of thousands of people over the ensuing weeks. China imposed major restrictions on travel and work, and by the end of February, cases of COVID-19 had slowed inside the country while spiking in other countries including South Korea, Italy, and Iran.
On March 11, the World Health Organization recognized the breakout as a global pandemic — the first since 2009.
Since then, the virus seems to have been contained inside China while it rapidly spreads in Europe and around the world. Many countries including France, Italy, and the United States have imposed severe restrictions on work, school, travel, and daily life in order to try to contain the virus.
How many people have been infected by COVID-19?
It is hard to know the true number of people who have been infected since symptoms can be mild or undetectable, but China alone has reported about 81,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 3,000 deaths.
For a reliable up-to-the-minute map of COVID-19 cases around the world, visit the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
How far will COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and there is no way to know how far it will spread. Much of daily life in Europe and the United States has ground to a halt while drastic social distancing measures have been put in place.
Many experts believe the focus should now shift to slowing the virus rather than stopping it altogether, with the immediate goal being to “flatten the curve” — to slow the virus’s spread enough that it doesn’t overwhelm health systems. Reports from inside China show that these drastic measures have worked to stop the virus, though it is unclear how effective they will be in other countries.
As with any epidemic, there is a major concern that health workers will be infected. Nearly 3,400 frontline health workers have been infected in China, and 13 have died. This underscores the importance of providing personal protective equipment, including goggles, gloves, and suits.
The best ways to slow the virus’s spread are to avoid public gatherings, stay home, and wash your hands frequently.
Who is most at risk?
Certain groups are more at risk of COVID-19 than others, including older adults and those with compromised immune systems. People who have chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease are also more at risk.
According to early data out of Hubei province, the death rate for those younger than 50 was less than 1%, and for those younger than 30 it was less than 0.1%. The rates increase as you get older: the mortality rate was 4.6% for those 60-69, 9.8% for those 70-79, and 18% for those 80 and older. In Italy, a study of 105 patients found that the average age of those who died from the virus was 81.
Young people are not immune from risk, however. Americans of all ages have been sickened by the virus, and more than a third of those hospitalized are younger than 55. Younger people make up half of ICU patients in France and the Netherlands. Also, though young people are at a low mortality risk from the virus, they can carry it — often without knowing it or showing symptoms. This underlies the importance of social distancing while the virus spreads.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Patients with COVID-19 experience mild to severe respiratory illness, with symptoms including fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. It is possible to have COVID-19 without showing symptoms.
Most people recover from the disease without needing special treatment, though older people and those with compromised immune systems are more at risk of falling seriously ill.
How is COVID-19 different from flu?
Influenza and COVID-19 share a number of similarities and can present in the same ways. Both of them can cause fever, cough, body aches, and can lead to pneumonia. They are also both contagious and can spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing.
There are some key differences between the two, however. While flu symptoms often come on quickly, COVID-19 symptoms may be more gradual and can even take over a week to present. There is also no current COVID-19 vaccine, though human trials have begun. Finally, while the death rate for seasonal flu is about 0.1%, the rate for COVID-19 can be much higher, depending on age group. Early data from China shows the death rate ranging from 1.4% – 2.3%.
What is the best way to protect yourself?
Since there is no vaccine to combat COVID-19, the best way to protect yourself from the illness is to avoid being exposed to it. This underscores the importance of social distancing, which can prevent the virus from transmitting person to person.
The CDC has important information about how to protect yourself. The most important things you can do are wash your hands frequently, avoid close contact, and not touch your face.
What is a novel coronavirus?
A novel coronavirus is a new kind of coronavirus that has not been previously identified. Coronaviruses usually cause upper-respiratory tract illnesses like the common cold, though some can grow serious.
Most people contract some sort of coronavirus during their lives. Human coronaviruses were first discovered in the 1960s, and seven of them can infect people. SARS was a coronavirus that killed 774 people in 2002–03, while MERS is a coronavirus that has killed 861 people since 2012.
When was the last time we had a global pandemic?
COVID-19 is the first global pandemic since the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” outbreak. The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the 2016 Zika virus outbreak were both categorized as international emergencies.
H1N1 was an influenza outbreak that infected about 60 million people in the United States from April 2009 – April 2010. It’s estimated that about 11–21% of the global population contracted the virus, and somewhere between 151,000–575,000 people died.
What were conditions like inside Wuhan as the virus spread?
At the virus’s peak, doctors in Wuhan described a “flooding” of patients in hospitals, with people waiting hours to seek treatment. Health workers faced a serious shortage of protective gear like suits, masks, and goggles. Many doctors wore the same protective suits for days at a time; others wore garbage bags or raincoats for protection.
To help ease the strain on Wuhan’s health system, the city rushed to build two new hospitals in a matter of days — one with 1,000 beds and one with 1,500 — which helped meet the severe influx of new patients.
Wuhan and the cities around it were placed on a travel lockdown, which cordoned off about 50 million people, roughly equivalent to the entire population of the U.S. west coast. These restrictions slowed the spread of the virus: by mid-March, the entire country was reporting only about 15-20 new cases a day.
What is Project HOPE doing to help?
Project HOPE has been working around the clock to provide protective gear and other critical equipment to doctors and nurses working on the front lines of this virus. As COVID-19 spreads, we are ready to ramp up our response in high-risk countries and are well positioned to respond.
As a global humanitarian organization, our mandate is always to respond where the need is greatest. We will be supporting doctors and nurses on the front lines of the pandemic here in the United States and are assessing ways we can support underserved and marginalized communities that are unlikely to seek testing.
Since February 2020, HOPE has been one of the only international relief organizations on the ground in China responding to the coronavirus outbreak. To date, Project HOPE has delivered a total of nearly 5 million facemasks as well as isolation gowns, protective coveralls, exam gloves, and other protective gear to hospitals on the front lines in Hubei province and Shanghai. Project HOPE is also providing lifesaving medical equipment to support patient care and treatment, including disinfection machines, medical air compressors, and ventilators.
What are some reliable sources of information to follow?
For up-to-date numbers about COVID-19 cases around the world, see the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
For information about COVID-19 cases in the U.S., visit the CDC.
The New York Times has made all its coverage about the coronavirus outbreak free and available at their website.
You can help!
Project HOPE is currently airlifting critical support for the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. Here’s how you can help.
Donate. Our ability to respond when health emergencies spread depends on the generosity of people like you. Please make a generous donation to our Global Health Emergency Fund today. You’ll help us prepare for emergencies before they happen and respond quickly when disaster strikes, so we can help communities around the world when we’re needed most.
Volunteer. Are you a healthcare or other professional who would like to learn more about volunteering abroad with Project HOPE? Learn more about our volunteer program and join our volunteer roster
Spread the word. Stay up-to-date on this story and our lifesaving work around the world by following us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter, and help spread the word by sharing stories that move and inspire you.
Originally published January 27, 2020. Last updated March 18, 2020.