On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, a pandemic. Prior, the disease was designated an epidemic. What is the difference?
During an outbreak, public health specialists work to identify who is sick, their symptoms, when they got sick, and where they might have gotten sick. Every virus spreads, or transmits, differently. By gathering this data and doing a process called contact tracing, public health officials are better able to control the disease. Some viruses are highly contagious, meaning they spread very quickly and easily from one person to another. Measles are an example of a highly contagious virus. Another important difference between viruses is if the virus spreads continually without stopping, which is called a sustained spread.
Contact tracing work done by the World Health Organization and local officials in China resulted in the current belief that COVID-19 originated in a live market in China. If you look at reports of COVID-19 cases on the website of your local Department of Public Health or Health and Human Services (we have created a map so you can find your state’s COVID-19 information center) you may see information about transmission or how the virus was acquired.
Public health officials rely on contact tracing to control an outbreak. By knowing where someone has been and who they have been around, public health officials can identify individuals that may have been exposed to the virus by that person and prevent additional people from becoming infected. In the early days of an outbreak, this is much easier because fewer people are infected. As more and more people become infected, contact tracing becomes much more difficult as the numbers rise exponentially.
This information is important for contact tracing.
Some groups have been told they are at a heightened risk for developing complications if they become infected with this virus. It’s hard to know who falls into this category. We have included, below, the CDC’s current listing of underlying health conditions that may put you at a higher risk. If you are unsure or if you are living with chronic disease not listed below, please be sure to contact your doctor with your concerns. The CDC is currently listing the following people as being at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19:
Social Distancing for an Individual: making sure there is distance between you and other people to avoid spreading illness. Staying at least 6 feet away from other people reduces your chances of becoming ill with COVID-19.
Social Distancing for a Community: steps taken to reduce large crowds or gatherings; it is hard to maintain distance at a social gathering or in a crowded space. This might include the following:
Self-Quarantine: someone who has been exposed or who may be sick with COVID-19 might be asked to self-quarantine. This lasts 14 days because two weeks is enough time to know if you will become sick and contagious to other people. After a self-quarantine period has ended, if you don’t have symptoms, follow your doctor’s advice on returning to normal life. If you recently traveled somewhere with a lot of COVID-19 cases or if you have been exposed to an infected person you might be asked to self-quarantine. This involves:
Isolation: making sure people who are confirmed to have COVID-10 stay away from those who do not have it. Isolation may happen at home or at a hospital or similar health care setting.
A lot of people have been talking about Flattening the Curve and Exponential Spread. But what does all of this really mean for COVID-19? This virus spreads quickly and easily in communities. The number of people sick could become very large, very quickly. Using protective measures, like social distancing, self-quarantine, and isolation, are attempts to keep this from happening, or flattening the curve. The curve (line on the graph) shows the number of people getting sick and needing doctors’ assistance or hospitalization. If too many people get really sick, all at once, in a matter of days, hospitals could become overloaded and the health care system would be overwhelmed. This would also mean more people could die because they may not be able to get the help they need. By flattening the curve, the same number of people may get sick but instead of happening all at once, it happens over time, to make sure people can be taken care of as best as possible.
Here is a great video that describes exponential spread, flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections, and what you can do to help your community.
Last updated on September 11th, 2023 at 12:35 pm