One Year After Pandemic Declaration – Where Are We?
We all knew it was coming. Nobody was surprised at the announcement. But still, there was a finality about it that made us simultaneously sad and scared.
I’m talking about the day – just over a year ago – when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic.
At that time (March 11, 2020), the viral disease had been discovered in at least 114 countries. It had infected some 120,000 people and killed more than 4,300.
Eight countries, including the United States, had reported 1,000 or more cases. New cases outside of China had increased 13-fold over the previous two weeks. We thought all those numbers were disturbingly high. We had no idea.
First Pandemic Since 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu
The declaration marked the first time WHO had labeled an outbreak as a pandemic since the H1N1 swine flu of 2009.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the director-general of WHO. Here’s what he said at the time. “We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
He added that while the number of cases and deaths were expected to continue climbing, hope remained that it could be contained.
“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough,” he said then. “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”
118 Million Confirmed Cases
Either Mr. Ghebreyesus was wrong or not enough countries took appropriate steps to slow the spread.
Regardless, as of this writing there have been 118 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 2.61 million deaths worldwide.
That includes 29.2 million cases and 528,000 deaths attributed to the pandemic in America.
There has been an ebb and flow in the U.S. to the number of new cases. We peaked at 300,619 new cases on January 8. And dropped to 55,832 on March 9. But new variants of the virus are springing up and medical experts are very concerned.
Grocery Store Shelves Empty
Some of you may remember the day the first U.S. case was discovered. On January 21, 2000, the CDC confirmed that a Washington state resident had tested positive for the coronavirus. This person had returned from Wuhan, China six days earlier.
The Trump Administration declared a public health emergency on February 3. That turned into a national emergency two days after WHO made its pandemic announcement.
To many of us, those were merely words describing what we knew was happening. What really brought the situation into focus for us was empty grocery store shelves.
Suddenly items that had been plentiful just days earlier were gone or strictly rationed. Like toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, meat, bottled water, etc. Lines at food banks extended for blocks.
A Grim Prediction
International travel bans quickly went into place. And while Americas were still largely free to travel within the continental U.S., many were opting to cancel business and leisure trips.
On one California cruise ship, 21 of 46 passengers tested for the coronavirus got a positive result. They were quarantined at port.
Nursing homes were ravaged by the virus, with some losing 30 or more elderly residents in a short amount of time.
And predictions from medical experts that things would get much worse before they got better did not seem like scare tactics. They felt very real.
Businesses Close, Vaccines Approved
Experts determined that the highly-contagious virus spread much like the flu. So, business ground to a halt or a slow crawl in many industries.
Restaurants closed or were limited to outdoor seating. And reduced hours of operation. Gyms and spas shut down completely. Sports stadiums and amusement parks were empty. Schools went virtual.
California became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, other than essential jobs or needs. The economy reeled. The unemployment rate skyrocketed. Trump asked Congress to approve relief checks as part of an economic stimulus package.
A couple of drugs showed some promise, but a vast majority of the medical effort focused on treating severe cases. And attempting to develop effective vaccines.
Currently, three vaccines have been approved in the U.S. for emergency usage. Millions have received one of them. It’s unknown whether they will be effective against virus variants, said to be even more contagious and possibly more deadly.
Guidelines Become Consistent
Much has changed over the past 12 months. For example, the CDC originally said facemasks were only necessary when caring for a sick person. As scientists learned more about the virus, they became better able to determine how it spreads.
Two things, however, have remained constant. One, there is no cure. And there is likely to never be a cure.
The more recent constant has been instructions on lessening your chances of catching or spreading the virus. They include:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Wear a face covering when in public. Avoid crowds when possible.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw it in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Avoid close contact with people who are, or who appear to be, ill.
- If you are sick, stay home.
I know your health is top of mind right now. As it should be. Especially because none of us knows when this thing is going to end.
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