Coronavirus Hits an Inflection Point
What a difference a day makes.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 marked a turning point in public and government response to the coronavirus. In the course of less than seven hours:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) called the virus a pandemic, its most serious threat designation, citing alarm that some governments weren’t responding quickly enough to the spread of the virus but emphasizing that there is still time to contain it.
- President Trump declared a ban on all inbound travel from 26 European countries to the United States for 30 days, effective at midnight Friday. The order applies to 26 countries in the so-called “Schengen Zone,” which permits free movement throughout the region for EU members. It does not apply to cargo shipments or to U.S. citizens, permanent residents and some of their family members.
- The NCAA announced that this month’s basketball tournaments will be held as scheduled next week but without fans. The next day, it canceled the tournaments entirely.
- The National Basketball Association suspended all play indefinitely Wednesday evening after Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19. Gobert’s teammate, forward Donovan Mitchell, later was also reported to have tested positive.
- Movie star Tom Hanks said he and his wife, Rita Wilson, have both tested positive for the virus and are being treated in Australia.
The bad news continued early on Thursday, March 12, 2020, particularly for sports fans:
- The National Hockey League followed the NBA’s lead, suspending all games until further notice.
- Major League Baseball canceled the rest of spring training and delayed opening day for at least two weeks.
- Boston Marathon officials have postponed the race until fall.
What’s a Pandemic?
The WHO’s designation of a pandemic appeared to spark a flurry of cancellations and closings in the ensuing 24 hours. While the move carries no legal weight and there are no hard and fast rules for when it is applied, the label communicates the highest level of urgency at a global level.
The WHO defines a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease” that affects large numbers of people. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) calls it is “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”
That contrasts to an epidemic, which the CDC calls “an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected” in that area.
A pandemic used to be the most serious designation the WHO used in a now-discarded six-stage classification scheme. The New York Times defined pandemic as an outbreak that “reaches a level where it could no longer be controlled.” The WHO hasn’t used the designation since the H1N1 “swine flu” in 2009.
While the term is purely semantic, WHO officials said they don’t use it lightly out of fear that might would cause some countries to give up the fight, according to The New York Times. Dr. Michael Ryan, head of the agency’s emergencies program, said the decision was made in an effort “to galvanize the world to fight.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, told the Times that the decision was also prompted by the need to drive home the message that some countries are not responding aggressively enough to contain the contagion. Ghebreyesus told CNN that health officials have “never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled.” That said, positive news now out of China indicates that the number of new cases has significantly declined, providing evidence that social distancing programs there are having impact.
Coronavirus in the News:
- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency, making New Jersey the 19th state to do so.
- Authorities in India’s capital area of Delhi declared that the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak an epidemic and shut down all educational institutions and movie theaters until March 31, according to NC4.
- President Trump was said to be mulling a declaration of a disaster or an emergency in order to direct more government resources towards containing the virus, according to CNN.
- Germany reported a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, with 802 new diagnoses bringing the total to 2,369 cases, the Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases said on Thursday.
- CNN has a stunning rundown of events and institutions that have closed or been canceled.