New coronavirus deemed public health emergency

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The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern at its Jan. 30 meeting.

Cases of a new coronavirus began to appear in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Since then, China’s National Health Commission has reported nearly 60,000 cases and more than 1,357 deaths related to coronavirus within China and 18 other nations, including the United States.

“Daily life has changed dramatically where we live now,” said Paul Losee, China resident and relative of a California Baptist University student. “We live in Guangdong Province, China, in the town of Dongcheng. Local government has mandated that we wear masks whenever we go outside our apartment in public areas around other people. In efforts to slow the virus from spreading, local restaurants and bars cannot open to serve patrons and can only provide food for limited deliveries. We have felt very isolated in the last few weeks.”

The United States has discovered 14 coronavirus cases nationally, prompting officials to declare a public health emergency Jan. 31. The U.S. government evacuated 195 citizens from Wuhan Jan. 29 and brought them to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside. The government instituted a two-week federal quarantine for those evacuated, who still remain at the base.

To limit the spread of the virus, the United States will also begin to enforce travel restrictions. Any foreign nationals who visited China within 14 days before arriving in the United States will not be able to enter the country, and U.S. citizens returning from Wuhan will be quarantined for up to two weeks. U.S. citizens returning from other parts of China will participate in health screenings and may be required to undergo a self-monitored quarantine.

“At this time, (reports say) the coronavirus is not spreading in the community in the United States,” said Bethany Carpenter, senior nursing major. “We should, however, be concerned about the impact the coronavirus is making in China and worldwide. The coronavirus has become a dire situation in China and has affected many worldwide. I believe we have a responsibility to stay informed and be in prayer for those affected.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the new coronavirus causes a respiratory illness that often causes fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Although health officials are still examining how the virus originated and spread, the CDC said it most likely spread from animals to humans, as many of the cases in Wuhan were connected to a seafood and animal market. The virus has also spread to other people through human-to-human contact.

“This virus is what is known as a CoV virus, so it is a virus that is developed in animals,” said Amanda Madrid, associate professor of nursing. “The reason that is so critical is that it has now crossed from animal-to-animal transmission to animal-to-human transmission. Because of that, it can mutate faster, it travels faster and it can impact more people.”

This new illness is not the first human disease to originate from a coronavirus transmitted by animals. According to the WHO, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), caused by a coronavirus, led to an outbreak that resulted in 8,098 cases and 774 deaths in 2003. The WHO has also reported 2,494 cases of the Middle East acute respiratory syndrome, caused by a coronavirus, and 858 related deaths since it was discovered in 2012. Ebola, another illness resulting from a coronavirus, caused an epidemic from 2014-2016 with 28,652 cases and 11,325 deaths.

The WHO is working with China and other countries around the world to limit the spread of the coronavirus. However, no vaccine currently exists to combat the new coronavirus. Madrid said individuals infected with the coronavirus can transmit the disease even if they do not show symptoms.

“There is no treatment at this time because we have to figure out what it is,” Madrid said. “That is exactly the fear of it. We do not know everything about it; we do not know how fast it is mutating and we do not know how people are catching it or how fast they are catching it.”

The CDC said the most effective way to avoid becoming infected with the coronavirus is to wash hands regularly, clean surfaces, avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth without washing hands, and limit contact with individuals displaying signs of sickness. The CDC also discourages any travel to China during the coronavirus outbreak. Madrid said hospitals are preparing quarantine areas and medical workers are becoming educated about how to manage patients displaying symptoms of the coronavirus. 

“The first step is awareness,” Madrid said. “(We need to) make sure people are aware (of the virus) and know how to keep themselves safe.

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