A ‘global pandemic’ that could go two ways
The coronavirus outbreak is not just an epidemic, it’s also a global pandemic, the World Health Organization declared on Wednesday.
The W.H.O. resisted using that term until now, for fear that people would take it to mean the virus was unstoppable and would give up trying to contain it. But the head of the W.H.O. said in Geneva that “all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” so it’s vital to keep fighting its spread.
You can see why in a chart that has quickly become a defining image of the crisis. It shows two curves for the number of cases over time: A swift, steep peak if no protective measures are taken, and a flatter, more manageable slope if people wash their hands, limit travel and practice “social distancing.”
“This graph is changing minds, and by changing minds, it is saving lives,” tweeted Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington.
Flattening the curve with mitigation “reduces the number of cases that are active at any given time, which in turn gives doctors, hospitals, police, schools and vaccine manufacturers time to prepare and respond, without becoming overwhelmed,” Drew Harris, a population health analyst at Thomas Jefferson University, told our colleague Siobhan Roberts.
Dr. Harris added: “Some commentators have argued for getting the outbreak over with quickly. That is a recipe for panic, unnecessary suffering and death. Slowing and spreading out the tidal wave of cases will save lives. Flattening the curve keeps society going.”
Red tape helped the virus spread in Seattle
The government squandered a chance for early warning of the coronavirus’s spread in the Seattle area after the first U.S. case surfaced in January, our correspondents Sheri Fink and Mike Baker report.
Researchers tracking the flu in the region had collected samples from thousands of people with symptoms — samples that could be screened for the coronavirus as well. But to do that, the researchers needed federal permission, and officials repeatedly turned them down.
After weeks of frustration, the researchers started testing the samples anyway in late February — and one swiftly came back positive. That case — a local teenager with no recent travel history — showed that the virus had already established itself on American soil without anybody knowing it.
“It must have been here this entire time,” Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an infectious disease expert in Seattle, recalled thinking. “It’s just everywhere already.”
Federal officials had said no because the researchers’ lab was not certified for clinical work and the test subjects had not given permission, among other reasons. On Monday night, they ordered the researchers to stop testing their samples.
Hear more: Ms. Fink, who covers global public health for The Times, discusses the story, and the wider consequences of lags and lapses in testing in the U.S., on today’s episode of “The Daily” podcast.
A scramble for action in Washington, D.C.
“We have got to assume it is going to get worse and worse and worse.”
That was Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warning Congress that the coronavirus would keep spreading rapidly in the United States, which crossed the 1,000-case threshold overnight.
President Trump said he would address the nation on the coronavirus crisis at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Senate and House leaders were racing on Wednesday to put together a bipartisan short-term bill that could be sent to Mr. Trump this week. It would most likely focus on paid leave, enhanced unemployment insurance, food assistance and help for small businesses affected by the outbreak.
Worried about your taxes? The Internal Revenue Service said it was thinking about extending the April 15 deadline for most people to pay their 2019 income tax. (Filing extensions are easy to get, but you usually still have to pay on time, even if you file late.)
Basketball will go on, but the crowds will not. The N.C.A.A. said its annual tournaments, set to begin next week, would be played without fans in the stands. And the Golden State Warriors of the N.B.A. will host the Brooklyn Nets in an empty arena on Thursday.
The governor of Kentucky, a state with high levels of religious observance, urged churches and houses of worship across the state to cancel services this weekend.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany warned her country that about two-thirds of the population would probably get the virus before the epidemic is over. The country has about 1,600 cases now.
Italy tightened its lockdown, ordering all businesses closed except pharmacies, grocery stores, banks and public transit. The country reported more than 2,300 new cases on Wednesday, for a total of more than 12,000, with 827 deaths over all.
Case numbers are mounting all over Europe: France and Spain each have well over 2,000 confirmed cases; Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have at least 400; and Denmark and Belgium more than 300. Belgium and Ireland reported their first deaths on Wednesday.
India shut its doors, suspending all visas to travel to the country until April 15, with a few official, diplomatic and employment-related exceptions. The suspension even applies to three million people in the Indian diaspora who have lifetime visas
What you can do
Teenagers may be particularly anxious. Explain that anxiety alerts us to potential threats and helps us move toward safety. “Feeling some anxiety,” you might say, “makes sense right now. You’re having the right reaction to the emerging news about the coronavirus.”
Learning doesn’t have to stop when kids are home. Some tips from a school administrator: Stick to their daily routine, including wake-up times; let them pursue topics that interest them; and get outside when you can.
You should know the drill by now. But let’s run it again: Wet your hands. Lather them with soap. Scrub for 20 seconds. Rinse off. Dry with a clean towel. It really is the best way to keep safe, because soap is molecular Kryptonite for viruses.
What else we’re following
In locked-down Italy, life has become a grim game of chance, with everyone trying to size up the odds of catching the virus — especially in Pavia, the hometown of the Renaissance mathematician who wrote the book on probability.
Industry leaders on Broadway, hoping to keep shows running while protecting public health, have advised actors to stop greeting fans at the stage door.
The makeup industry revolves around touching your face, so cosmetics companies are getting creative.
Times journalists traveling through airports have not seen outright panic, but something more subtle — a largely unspoken angst over an invisible enemy.
A coronavirus conference was canceled because of the coronavirus, Bloomberg News reports.
The eye of the storm: Here is “the new normal” inside the besieged suburban hospital in Kirkland, Wash., that has treated more patients and seen more deaths linked to the virus than any other in the U.S.
What you’re doing
Per the recommendations of the C.D.C., I’m being more diligent than usual about washing my hands. Another measure that I’ve taken is to carry a stylus that I use for all touch-screen transactions outside my home. When using A.T.M.s, vending machines, and tablets at retailers and coffee shops, I use a stylus instead of my finger.
— Eric Walton, Manhattan
Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.
Adam Pasick and Tom Wright-Piersanti contributed to today’s newsletter.