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The last time a pandemic was declared was 11 years ago.
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  • The World Health Organization declared a global pandemic due to the rise of COVID-19.
  • There are distinct differences between an outbreak, epidemic, and pandemic.
  • A pandemic is an epidemic that’s spread over several countries or continents and affects a large percent of the population.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently declared COVID-19 — the disease that results from the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 — a worldwide pandemic.

Constant coverage has raised panic levels around the globe. In many instances, people seem to be prepping as if it’s the end of the world.

But what does it really mean?

“We are preparing to the greatest extent possible. Unlike China, we are not building 10 new hospitals in 2 weeks. But surge capacity is being evaluated, coordinated among all the ministries within our healthcare system,” Dr. Jim Keany, emergency physician at Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are very distinct differences between an outbreak, epidemic, and pandemic.

The CDC explains that an outbreak is an increase in cases of a disease above what’s normally expected in a certain area. The increase is often sudden.

An epidemic is much like an outbreak, but for people within a larger region. The two terms differ only in degree.

A pandemic is an epidemic that’s spread over several countries or continents and affects a large percent of the population.

It’s important to note that this isn’t used to indicate the severity of a disease, only the degree to which it’s spreading.

The last time a pandemic was declared was 11 years ago.

In June 2009, the WHO declared H1N1 (swine) flu a pandemic. By August 2010, it was announced a “post-pandemic period.”

“It’s important for the public to understand that the declaration is not necessarily connected to a specific event that increased the overall risk to the population,” said Jennifer A. Horney, PhD, professor and founding director of the epidemiology program at College of Health Sciences at the University of Delaware.

“It’s an action that allows for the expansion of administrative capacity of national and global public health agencies that can contribute to the response,” she said.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased in the United States, President Donald Trump insisted there was no immediate need to declare a national emergency.

“I don’t think you’ll need that, because I really think we’re in extremely good shape. We’re prepared for anything. And we can always do that at a later date if we need it,” said Trump, according to VOA News.

However, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, says now is the time to do so.

“President Trump should act immediately to approve any state’s request for a disaster declaration in order to unlock additional federal aid and resources for states. We need to apply every tool available to help states that have been hit hardest by the outbreak so we can help contain the spread,” Reed said in a statement.

According to Reed, doing so will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make billions available from the Disaster Relief Fund to assist local and state governments in their response efforts.

It would also allow FEMA to deploy personnel to assist states with their response to COVID-19.

The CDC recommends that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it’s difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people without symptoms or people who do not know they have contracted the virus. Cloth face masks should be worn while continuing to practice physical distancing. Instructions for making masks at home can be found here.
Note: It’s critical to reserve surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers.

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WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus specified four key areas governments should address:

  1. Prepare and be ready.
  2. Detect, protect, and treat.
  3. Reduce transmission.
  4. Innovate and learn.

Ghebreyesus also called on all countries to activate and scale up their emergency response mechanisms to communicate COVID-19 risks and inform citizens how they can protect themselves.

He instructed health officials to find, isolate, test, and treat every case; trace every contact while readying hospitals; and ensure health workers are properly protected and trained to deal with the novel coronavirus.

“There is no reason to panic. Just follow the recommendations by the public health authorities: avoid crowds, use disinfectants on high-touch areas, wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer, and avoid touching your face,” emphasized Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Arizona and a consultant for the hygiene company Enviro-Master.

The spread of the COVID-19 outbreak has picked up pace in recent days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday that 60 to 70 percent of Germans could contract the virus. Additionally, confirmed cases in the United States doubled over just 2 days, according to The New York Times.

But is COVID-19 worse than seasonal influenza?

“The seriousness of flu varies every year, with a new strain of flu virus every year. Usually the risk of death is .05 percent to [.1] percent. For the new coronavirus, it’s running 3 to 4 percent, so it appears more serious than the flu we see every year, even if we consider all of the coronavirus cases that aren’t reported,” Gerba said.

Keany recommends using telemedicine whenever possible to avoid direct exposure through the healthcare system.

He also cautions to only visit the emergency room for severe symptoms, not just for testing.

“Those over age 60 and those with existing health conditions, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, are most at risk from complications and death from infection with COVID-19,” Horney said.

The WHO has declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, which means the disease has spread over many regions.

This doesn’t mean people are at greater risk. Rather, it allows for the expansion of administrative capacity of health agencies that can contribute to the response.

Experts say there’s no reason to panic. Instead, they say to follow the advice of health officials and do everything to avoid infection as instructed.

COVID-19 is significantly more serious than the common flu. Those most at risk are older people and people with underlying health conditions.