The Latest on COVID-19 — What You Need to Know

Scientists continue to study COVID-19, the respiratory illness that was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, and is now a global concern. As of yesterday, there were upwards of 77,700 cases of COVID-19 in China and more than 2,600 deaths. Outside China, more than 2,400 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in 47 countries and territories, and there have been 34 deaths. While the spread of the virus is not yet a pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that global circumstances suggest that worldwide spread of the virus is very likely.

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

The agency tweeted on Tuesday evening that Americans should think about getting ready—the social disruptions (the possibility of schools closing, workplaces closing, restricted transit and the like) may be severe. Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, M.D., underscored this message: “The same family emergency plans and kits that we use to prepare for flu or norovirus, and even snowstorms and floods, are important now. Pennsylvanians should continue to help stop the spread of viruses by washing your hands, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning surfaces and staying home if you are sick.”

Given the seriousness of this public health threat, here’s what you need to know:

  • To date, no one has tested positive for COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, and the risk to most people in the United States, where the virus has not spread widely in the community, is, right now, very low. But the likelihood that COVID-19 will spread in the community in the U.S. is high.
  • Reported illnesses caused by COVID-19 have ranged from mild to severe, including illness resulting in death. The complete clinical picture of illness caused by COVID-19 isn’t yet completely understood.
  • At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medication approved to treat it. The nonpharmaceutical interventions in the above flyer are your best strategy for prevention, along with 1) getting a flu shot and 2) avoiding all nonessential travel to China and South Korea, and practicing enhanced precautions, such as those outlined above, when traveling to Japan, Iran and Italy. The CDC also recommends reconsidering all cruise ship voyages into or within Asia.

To date, the Wolf Administration has activated the Department of Health’s Emergency Operations Center to allow for enhanced response coordination; and reviewed and adapted the commonwealth’s current pandemic flu plans for COVID-19. Check the Department of Health’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account for updates. I will continue to keep you apprised as the situation evolves.