COVID-19 has landed in the Pacific Northwest.
After its initial detection in Wuhan, China in December, the respiratory coronavirus has rapidly spread to 60 countries, including the United States. On Friday, federal officials announced America's first death from COVID-19 in Kirkland, Washington, a suburb of Seattle in King County. The deceased lived in a state-run nursing facility with a poor track record of preventing the spread of infection. By Monday morning, three more residents of the nursing facility had died from the virus. State officials have attributed two other Washington deaths to the virus, bringing the total deaths in the state—and country—to six.
King County officials have announced plans to buy a motel in the Seattle area to isolate the growing number of people infected with the virus.
On Friday, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) confirmed Oregon's first COVID-19 case in Lake Oswego, in a man employed by Forest Hills Elementary School. Unlike other cases that have popped up in the US, the man had not traveled recently, nor had he come into close contact with someone who had. On Sunday, OHA announced that someone who lives with the infected employee had also tested positive for the virus, making them the second Oregonian to be officially sickened.
On Monday morning, OHA broke news of a third case reported in a person living in rural Umatilla County in Eastern Oregon. OHA did not specify where, exactly, the person lives—but did note that they attended a basketball game at a gymnasium at Weston Middle School on Saturday, February 29. Weston is about 20 miles northeast of Pendleton, the Umatilla County seat. Health officials say this case isn't linked to any recent travel to areas with detected COVID-19, suggesting the disease had been contracted from someone else in the community.
The only thing spreading as quickly as COVID-19 across the Pacific Northwest is misinformation about it. To quell unnecessary fears (and address valid ones), here's a primer on what this virus is and how to avoid it. (Shoutout to the experts and researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], the World Health Organization [WHO] and the New York Times.)
What is a coronavirus?
Coronavirus is the name of certain virus that, under a microscope, has spikes that slightly resemble the sun's corona. You've probably had a type of mild coronavirus, as it can regularly lead to the common cold or flu. New versions of a coronavirus can spread rapidly, however, and lead to fatal results. China's 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus was a type of coronavirus, as was the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. COVID-19 is a new variety of coronavirus that experts believe was first transmitted by a live animal at a marketplace in Wuhan. COVID-19 currently has a death rate of 1.4 percent, but health experts say that may be an overestimation. As of Sunday, there were about 87,000 COVID-19 cases detected worldwide and 3,000 deaths.
What are the symptoms?
COVID-19's symptoms aren't dissimilar to a common cold. Those infected with mild case often have a fever, cough, and low energy. More serious cases can cause pneumonia and severe shortness of breath.
Is there a vaccine against COVID-19?
Not yet. According to the Times, "an experimental vaccine for the coronavirus may be ready for testing in humans within a few months, but will take much longer, at least a year or two, to become available for widespread use."
How can you avoid infection?
Wash your hands frequently, avoid spending time with sick people, avoid big public spaces, get a flu shot, and don't panic. Don't wear a face mask if you aren't sick—it could make you more susceptible to the virus and only use hand sanitizer (that contains at least 60 percent alcohol) if you aren't able to wash your hands. For reliable updates about COVID-10's spread in Oregon, go straight to the source: OHA's news page.
Stay home, drink fluids, rest, and avoid contact with members of the public. If you do leave your house, wear a face mask and keep your hands to yourself. The CDC also recommends calling your healthcare provider and telling them about your symptoms. There is no approved antiviral drug for COVID-19 at this time.
Who is most at risk?
People with weakened immune systems and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes) appear most likely to develop the more serious COVID-19 symptoms. The death rate has been highest for people ages 70 and above. Children appear to be less susceptible to the coronavirus than adults.
What might happen?
It's not... great. According to the CDC, as more people come in contact with those who have an undetected case of COVID-19, "It’s likely that at some point, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur." The CDC predicts public health systems and emergency medical services will be overloaded, "with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths," and law enforcement and transportation systems could also be impacted.
Okay, so now what?
Prepare to be stuck in your house for a longer-than-the-average-cold period of time. If your workplace temporary closes to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or if you come down with the virus, you're going to want to be stocked up on the essentials: food, 30-day supply of prescription medications, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and other household necessities. And again: Don't panic.