What you need to know about coronavirus

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 16, 2020 8:25 PM CT | Published: March 16, 2020 5:55 PM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

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What’s new?

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 169,000 people and killed more than 6,500. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or people with existing health problems. More than 77,000 people have recovered from it so far, mostly in China.


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The head of the World Health Organization says social distancing and other measures to limit contact between people can help fight the spread of the coronavirus, but testing people who might have the disease is its No. 1 priority.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the COVID-19 outbreak is the “defining global health crisis of our time” and will “be a test of our resolve.”


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Is it going to get worse?

Probably. According to an Associated Press report from Washington, the U.S. surgeon general said Monday, March 16, that the number of coronavirus cases in the United States has reached the level that Italy recorded two weeks ago, a sign that infections are expected to rise in America as the government steps up testing and financial markets continue to fall.

“We are at a critical inflection point in this country, people,” Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Fox News. “When you look at the projections, there’s every chance that we could be Italy.”


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Brett Giroir, a senior health administration official, said community testing sites manned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and members of the U.S. public health service would be capable of testing 2,000 to 4,000 people each day. He said the federal government would begin deploying these sites on Monday.

Vice President Mike Pence said he and the president would brief the nation’s governors Monday on the expansion of testing. Also coming is updated federal guidance on restaurants, bars and other establishments.

Is coronavirus really dangerous?

The Associated Press reports that for most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The worldwide outbreak has sickened more than 169,000 people and left more than 6,500 dead.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.


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Kentucky has reported its first death from the new coronavirus. Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that the 66-year-old Bourbon County man who died had other health conditions and “there were numerous factors that led to this point.”

Symptoms and testing

The Centers for Disease Control suggests that if you develop symptoms such as fever, cough, and/or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19, stay home and call your healthcare provider. Older patients and individuals who have severe underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised should contact their healthcare provider early, even if their illness is mild. If you have severe symptoms, such as persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, or bluish lips of face, contact your healthcare provider or emergency room and seek care immediately. Your doctor will determine if you have signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and whether you should be tested.


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Memphis area hospitals have set up areas where patients who exhibit symptoms or may have been exposed to coronavirus can be tested.

The Shelby County Health Department has also activated a call center to answer questions about COVID-19. The hotline number is to 833-943-1658.

A possible vaccine

U.S. researchers gave the first shot to the first person in a test of an experimental coronavirus vaccine Monday at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle. The potential COVID-19 vaccine was developed in record time after the new virus exploded from China and fanned across the globe.

Monday’s milestone marked the beginning of a series of studies in people needed to prove whether the shots are safe and could work. Even if the research goes well, a vaccine wouldn’t be available for widespread use for 12 to 18 months, said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. That’s still important if the virus becomes a long-term threat.

The economy

As President Donald Trump worked to tamp down anxiety over the virus and called on people to stop hoarding groceries and other supplies, officials in Washington were preparing for what was expected to be a long-haul effort to stem the virus that has upended life around the globe.

Trump expressed satisfaction that the Federal Reserve announced Sunday it was taking emergency action to slash its benchmark interest rate to near zero. 

The Fed made an emergency cut to its key interest rate, slashing it by a full percentage point to a range between zero and 0.25%. The central bank said it would stay there until it feels confident the economy can survive a near-shutdown of activity.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress had started work on a new aid package after the one just approved by the House early Saturday, which would provide direct relief to Americans with sick pay and other help and was pending in Senate.


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What about travel?

President Trump in recent days has imposed sweeping travel restrictions for much of Europe. On Saturday, he added Britain and Ireland to a list of countries facing travel restrictions over the next 30 days. The State Department on Sunday said it would allow U.S. personnel to leave their diplomatic or consular posts worldwide if they or family members were medically determined to be at a higher risk of falling very ill if exposed to the virus.

The president of the European Union’s executive commission is proposing a 30-day travel ban on people entering the EU for non-essential reasons in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

 

What about pets?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no reason to think that any animals including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus. To date, CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19. However, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after being around animals. 

 

What’s been canceled?

The White House said Monday it would cancel the holiday Easter Egg Roll held annually on the South Lawn. The event, in which thousands of children and adults roll hard-boiled eggs across the lawn and play other games, had been scheduled for April 13.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it is postponing arguments for late March and early April because of the coronavirus. Six of the Supreme Court’s nine justices are age 65 and older and therefore at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, and Stephen Breyer, 81, are the oldest members of the court.

Elton John and the Foo Fighters announced cancellations Monday for upcoming performances, joining other artists like The Who, Blake Shelton and Dan + Shay.

In New York, late night TV shows are on hiatus, museums closed and Broadway is dark.

The Boston Marathon, the world’s most celebrated footrace, was postponed from April 20 until Sept. 14.

AMC Theaters, the largest movie chain in North America, will limit attendance at all screenings to 50 people to adhere to the CDC’s latest social distancing guidelines.

Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, Washington state and New York City are among the places that ordered bars to close and restaurants to stop dine-in service. Takeout and delivery will still be allowed.

Asked whether restaurants and bars nationally should close for now, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said he wanted to wait for the guidance to come but allowed, “That could be.”

“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Fauci said. “It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to determine what the ultimate endpoint is going to be.”

Is this affecting the Census?

Because of the new coronavirus, the U.S. Census Bureau has postponed sending out census takers to count college students in off-campus housing and delayed sending workers to grocery stores and houses of worship where they help people fill out the once-a-decade questionnaire.

The Census Bureau said in a statement Sunday that the deadline for ending the 2020 census at the end of July could be adjusted as needed. The 2020 census started last week with its website going live and the start of mailings notifying people to start answering the questionnaire.

As of Sunday, 5 million people had already responded to the census, according to the bureau.

The Census Bureau said it would change the messaging for its paid advertising to emphasize that people should self-respond online, by telephone or through the mail so they don’t have to see a census taker.

The homeless are counted over three days at the end of March and beginning of April at soup kitchens, homeless shelters and outdoor camps. .

The 2020 census will determine how many congressional seats each state gets, as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending. The population counts of each state used for forming congressional districts are required to be sent to the president by the last day of the year.

Why are people hoarding?

President Donald Trump has called on the public to quit hoarding groceries and other supplies.

“You don’t have to buy so much,” he said at a Sunday news conference. “Take it easy.”

Jay L. Zagorsky of Boston University writes, “As an economist, I am fascinated by why people hoard products that are not having supply problems. “

He added, “The average person in the U.S. uses about 100 rolls of toilet paper each year. If most of it came from China, this could be a huge problem because supply chains from that country have been severely disrupted as a result of COVID-19.

“The U.S., however, imports very little toilet paper – less than 10%. Today there are almost 150 U.S. companies making this product.”

So then why would people hoard a product that is abundant?

Zagorsky says hoarding also makes people feel secure. “This is especially relevant when the world is faced with a novel disease over which all of us have little or no control. However, we can control things like having enough toilet paper in case we are quarantined.

“Modern economies run on trust and confidence. COVID-19 is breaking down that trust. People are losing confidence that they will be able to go outside and get what they need when they need it. This leads to hoarding items like toilet paper.”


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Social distancing is hard

Jonathan Kanter of the University of Washington writes in the Conversation, “To fight the spread of coronavirus, government officials have asked Americans to swallow a hard pill: Stay away from each other. In times of societal stress, such a demand runs counter to what evolution has hard-wired people to do: Seek out and support each other as families, friends and communities. We yearn to huddle together.”

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Priority number one is to follow the recommended social distancing guidelines to control the virus.
  • Reach out to friends and family and connect. A phone call, with a real voice, is better than text, and a videochat is better than a phone call.
  • What you say when connecting also matters. If you are stressed and upset, talking about your feelings can help.
  • Resist the impulse to dismiss, debate or tell the other person not to worry. 
  • Be generous. If you feel compelled to go to the grocery store to stock up, consider checking in with people you know who are more vulnerable and see what they might need.

 

Around the world

Aid group Doctors Without Borders is calling on European Union member countries to show solidarity by ensuring essential medical supplies such as face masks are channeled to where they are most critically needed.

The group, known by its French acronym MSF, said shortages of personal protective equipment are increasingly commonplace in Italy, the country with the second-biggest number of cases in the world.

 

The Russian government reported Monday that the country has 93 infections, up 30 from a day earlier. Of all contagions, 86 people were infected abroad and seven got the new coronavirus locally. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has tightened public health measures in the Russian capital, banning gatherings of more than 50 people until April 10. He also ordered Moscow schools closed and asked elderly people to stay home.

 

Authorities in India say travelers from the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and and the United Kingdom will not be allowed to enter. So far, India has confirmed 114 cases, with 2 deaths.

Somalia has confirmed its first coronavirus case, an alarming development in the Horn of Africa nation with one of the continent’s weakest health systems. Large parts of Somalia remain under the control of the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which has been hostile to aid groups 

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday placed the northern third of the country under an “enhanced community quarantine” that requires millions of people to stay mostly at home.

 

Germany is set to follow other European countries in shutting non-essential shops, bars, museums, places of worship and many other facilities in response to the new coronavirus. Germany had over 4,800 confirmed cases, including 12 deaths, as of Monday.

 

The government in Greenland has reported the first confirmed coronavirus case on the world’s largest island.

A spokesman for the public health ministry in Afghanistan says 37 patients who are suspected to be infected with the new coronavirus ran away from a hospital. Ministry spokesman Waheed Mayar confimed Monday that the patients escaped from the hospital in western Herat province with the help of relatives who assaulted doctors and nurses and shattered windows at the hospital.

 

The multimillion-dollar effort to reconstruct Paris' Notre Dame cathedral is being suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The former French army chief who French President Emmanuel Macron chose to lead the yearslong restoration project announced the decision Monday.

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coronavirus novel coronavirus
Beth Gooch

Beth Gooch

Digital producer Beth Gooch is a third-generation Memphian and a graduate of the University of Memphis.


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