Update on the coronavirus in Washington State

Last week, the Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) landed in the United States, with the first confirmed case in Snohomish County. Since then, 4 new cases have popped up in the US. In China, where the virus originated, over 4,000 have been infected (an overnight increase of 60%) and 106 have died, according to the most recent updates.

 

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In Washington State, there are currently 8 “persons under investigation” who are possibly ill with the new coronavirus but are awaiting test results, and there are 67 individuals being monitored across the state who have potentially been exposed to the virus.

While the CDC states that the immediate health risk to the general public is low in the US, some experts studying the virus and its spread are less optimistic.

STAT reports that “some infectious disease experts are warning that it may no longer be feasible to contain the new coronavirus.”

According to STAT’s article, “Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, suggested the estimates are sobering and point to continued spread.

‘If it’s not contained shortly, I think we are looking at a pandemic,’ Bedford said, though he cautioned that it’s impossible to know at this point how severe that type of event would be.”

Experts are also stressing the importance of taking measures to plan for the possibility that the virus won’t be contained. With preparation in mind, on Sunday the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) at Camp Murray raised its activation level to “Level 1- Full Activation” in response to the coronavirus. The SEOC is operated by the Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division. Emergency support functions ushered in by the new threat level include public health and medical services, agriculture and natural resources, and external affairs.

Regardless of how quickly the virus spreads, or how well it is contained, many characteristics of the virus remain a mystery. Scientists are working to understand the details of how the virus spreads, how quickly it becomes infectious, and the virus’s mortality risk.

According to a Tuesday update from CNBC, the death rate of the new coronavirus remains at about 2% to 3%. This rate is relatively low compared to other coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS (which had a 10% death rate) and MERS (a 35% death rate).    

However, a commentary published in The Lancet notes that “there is no room for complacency” based on these numbers.

“The 1918 influenza pandemic is estimated to have had a case-fatality ratio of less than 5% but had an enormous impact due to widespread transmission,” reads the commentary.

Still, others note that while the coronavirus is novel and mysterious, the biggest virus that Americans should be concerned with is the flu. Put into context, so far this season there have been approximately 15 million flu illnesses, 140,000 hospitalizations, and 8,200 deaths from the flu, according to the CDC.

The Washington State Department of Health is providing updates on the number of infected individuals, persons under investigation, and individuals being monitored in the state daily at 3pm here.