“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” said a World Health Organization official.
The coronavirus outbreak is now a global “pandemic,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday. The last time the organization declared a pandemic was in 2019 during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak.
Wait, what is a pandemic?
According to the group’s 2010 definition, a pandemic is “the worldwide spread of a new disease” that affects large numbers of people.
Why did officials wait this long to declare the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic?
The WHO previously avoided using this term over fears that it would make people think the virus could not be contained. By Wednesday, however, it had become clear the virus would continue to spread.
The WHO’s announcement does not trigger any new funding, protocols, or regulations. But it is an acknowledgment of reality.
“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
How many people have been infected? How many have died?
The outbreak, which began in Wuhan, China, has spread across the globe, sickening more than 124,000 people in 108 countries and killing at least 4,575. There are more than 1,000 confirmed cases in the United States and 31 Americans have died of the virus so far.
The “pandemic” designation is mostly symbolic, and the World Health Organization still emphasized that what happens next is determined by how countries respond.
“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” Tedros said. “We need each other.”
The outbreak will undoubtedly continue to spread though, according to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “The bottom line: It is going to get worse,” he told the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
How much worse depends on what steps the federal government and state governments take, Fauci said. Thus far, the Trump administration has been roundly criticized for its slow response to the coronavirus outbreak, the continued failure to provide widely available tests, and inconsistent, misleading, or flat-out inaccurate public statements. In February, President Trump even said “the coronavirus is the common cold.”
It is, for the record, not like the common cold. The worsening outbreak has not only killed thousands across the world, but it has also caused repeated stock market crashes and raised the prospect of a global recession. But instead of taking ownership of the administration’s failures, Trump has sought to blame everyone from former President Obama to the media for the outbreak and its impacts.
In fact, Trump continued to do so Wednesday, attacking Vanity Fair on Twitter. The outlet has published several articles, including this one and this one, criticizing the administration’s response to coronavirus.
“Vanity Fair Magazine, which will soon be out of business, and their third rate Fake reporters, who make up sources which don’t exist, wrote yet another phony & boring hit piece,” Trump wrote. “The facts are just the opposite. Our team is doing a great job with CoronaVirus!”
Around the same time, Dr. Fauci told members of Congress just how high the stakes were and how important it was to get things right.
“If we are complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up,” Fauci said Wednesday, adding that “many, many millions” of Americans could become infected.