The coronavirus, now officially called COVID-19, is racking up new cases

Here are the latest updates.

Woman in mask standing in airport
Travel bans and quarantines nonwithstanding, there's no need to panic over coronavirus in the US.The Visuals You Need/Deposit Photos

A version of this article was originally published on January 27. It has been updated.

A new coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, has global health agencies on high alert—and is causing no small amount of anxiety around the world. But for residents of the United States, there’s still no reason to panic. Here is everything experts know about COVID-19, so far. We’ll keep this article updated as more information comes available.

What is the Wuhan Coronavirus?

Colloquially known as the “Wuhan coronavirus” after the city where it is believed to have originated and now officially dubbed COVID-19, the disease is still poorly understood. The first cases appeared in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and likely came from some non-human animal host, though the exact animal and where it came into contact with humans has yet to be identified. Scientists have broadly criticized a recent study suggesting snakes might be the source. The latest claim from Chinese state media—that pangolins, which are frequently poached for their scales, could have passed the virus from bats to humans—lacks robust evidence as well.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that often cause mild respiratory symptoms (the common cold is one of them), but some can cause serious illness. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which jumped from bats to humans in China’s Guangdong Province in 2002, infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed at least 774.

Where has the novel coronavirus been identified?

Cases have been confirmed in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, the US, and Vietnam.

A Carnival’s Princess Cruises ship quarantined off the coast of Japan now has 218 confirmed cases, with multiple U.S. nationals among them. According to a blog posted by Princess Cruises on February 12, Japanese officials are beginning a voluntary disembarking process in which individuals confirmed to have COVID-19 will be taken to hospitals and those who have tested negative may choose to wait out their quarantine periods at isolated facilities on land. Passengers had previously reported that all 2,666 guests on board were being kept inside their cabins, with around 1,000 crew providing room service, expanded entertainment options, and access to the deck for passengers with interior staterooms. Princess Cruises has stated that passengers are still welcome to complete their quarantine on the ship.

Another cruise ship—this one owned by Royal Caribbean—allowed customers to disembark in Bayonne, New Jersey, last week after 27 passengers were evaluated and four were taken to a hospital for additional testing. The CDC advised Mayor Jimmy Davis that it was a “below low risk” situation.

How many people have COVID-19 and have died from it?

As of this morning there were nearly 60,000 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed that 99 percent of all known cases were identified in mainland China. So far, all but three of the 636 fatalities have occurred in the country. Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Japan have each reported one death. Adhanom Ghebreyesus also confirmed that 80 percent of confirmed cases are in Hubei Province, where the initial outbreak started. While most patients outside China traveled to the Wuhan area within two weeks of being diagnosed, several dozen cases in other countries—including the US—have involved close family members who had not traveled to China.

On February 13, the WHO emphasized that a seeming surge in Chinese cases was not due to an uptick in infected individuals, but rather the more accurate counting of cases tracing back to the beginning of the outbreak. Officials also noted that healthcare workers at the center of the epidemic had been given permission to diagnose cases using clinical evaluations, like examining chest x-rays, as a way to expedite the isolation of infected individuals.

“In other words, in Hubei province only, a trained medical professional can now classify a suspected case of COVID-19 as a clinically confirmed case on the basis of chest imaging rather than a laboratory confirmation,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said at the press conference. “In the rest of China and the rest of the world, laboratory confirmation is still required.”

In January the WHO told CBS it considered the death rate for the novel coronavirus to be around 2 percent. Initial data suggests it is much less likely to result in an infected patient’s death than SARS—but a mortality rate of 2 percent is still concerning, especially for a virus that can spread so quietly and leave most of the infected relatively healthy. Some experts suspect the true fatality rate of the virus is below 1 percent, with rates inflated due to the fact that so many cases of COVID-19 feature only mild symptoms. It’s likely that many of these mild cases are going undetected.

“It’s good to remember that when H1N1 influenza came out in 2009, estimates of case fatality were 10 percent,” David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, told Reuters. The actual fatality rate turned out to be well under 1 percent.

The WHO announced on January 30 that it had declared a state of public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Giving COVID-19 this designation enables the organization to issue specific response recommendations to different countries, and could help coordinate global response to avoid unnecessary impacts to the world’s economies.

“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference last week. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”

He emphasized that the decision was “not a vote of no confidence in China,” adding that the WHO believed country had the capacity to control its outbreak on the national scale, and commended researchers for the speed at which they identified the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced its genome, and shared data with the international community.

The WHO plans to recommend “evidence-based” responses to the outbreak, and hopes to dissuade countries from implementing “measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”

“We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering which measures to take,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

How many cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S.?

On February 13 the CDC confirmed an additional infection in the US, bringing the total count of confirmed patients up to 15. The three most recent patients are all individuals who were evacuated from China and held in quarantine. There are also two confirmed cases in the Chicago area, one in Maricopa County, Arizona, one in Everett, Washington, one in Dane County, Wisconsin, and one in the Boston area. The other six cases are in California: two in San Benito County, two in Santa Clara County, and one each in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

All but two of the U.S. patients traveled to Wuhan and acquired the infection there. Both individuals who caught the virus stateside are spouses of these patients, and became infected by way of direct personal contact. All are being treated and monitored in isolation to avoid further spread.

At a press briefing on February 3, the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier said that while she could not comment on the condition of individual patients, the department has seen “a spectrum of illness.”

“Some cases seem pretty mild, while at least some at points in their illness have been more seriously ill,” she said, adding that some patients had seen “ups and downs” and at least a few had required oxygen of some kind. She emphasized that data out of China continued to suggest those at highest risk of death were the elderly and those with underlying health problems, and that while the CDC expected to see more cases emerge in family members and close friends of already-identified patients, they hoped that transmission in the U.S. would stay contained enough to avoid fatalities.

The department reported on February 13 that an additional 347 people had been screened for COVID-19 and come up negative. Another 66 persons are still under investigation, with specimens either en route to CDC facilities for testing or currently being processed.

The CDC expects more cases to emerge as the virus can seemingly be spread via coughs and sneezes; reports from China indicate that the vast majority of patients have symptoms minor enough to be mistaken for an innocuous cough or cold. Still, the CDC maintains that risk to the U.S. population remains low.

Is the coronavirus a pandemic?

On February 4 the WHO said that the outbreak was not currently considered a pandemic, which refers to the “worldwide spread of a new disease.” There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in South America or Africa, and while cases are still emerging, the vast majority are still centered around an epidemic in China. At a global level, the virus is still something public health officials have the potential to track and contain.

“It’s very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told The New York Times. “But will it be catastrophic? I don’t know."

Johns Hopkins Senior Scholar Amesh Adalja, who focuses on infectious diseases and emergency medicine, told CNBC that the virus could become an annual occurrence quite like influenza, which kills tens of thousands of people each year in the US alone but is mostly a mild nuisance to people who catch it.

“It’s going to become a part of our seasonal respiratory virus family that causes disease,” he said, though he suspects the current outbreak will reach pandemic levels before it settles down. To prepare for that—and for future spikes of the illness in future seasons—we must get a better grip on how to track and treat the disease, so we can protect those who are most vulnerable to developing life-threatening symptoms.

“It’s important that we get a handle on what the severity is and who has the risk factors, so that we can protect those individuals,” Adalja told CNBC. “Many people are going to get mild illness, and it’s going to be more like a flu-like illness for many peoples but for some it may be very severe.”

At a press conference on February 5, WHO Director-General Tedros said that keeping the novel coronavirus from spreading globally would require a surge of financial assistance from wealthier countries.

“My biggest worry is that there are countries today who do not have the systems in place to detect people who have contracted with the virus, even if it were to emerge,” he said. “Urgent support is needed to bolster weak health systems to detect, diagnose, and care for people with the virus, to prevent further human to human transmission and protect health workers.” The WHO has released a strategic plan to prevent global spread of the virus from now through April, which requires $675 million in funding. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $100 million.

“The effectiveness of outbreak response depends on the preparedness measures put in place before outbreaks strike,” said Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program. “That is why we are seeking resources to safeguard the most vulnerable countries to protect people from the new coronavirus before it arrives on the doorstep.”

“Invest today,” Tedros said, “or pay more later.”

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, but seem to usually be quite minor or even nonexistent in infected individuals. Life-threatening pneumonia is possible for any patient, however, and seniors, individuals with underlying health problems, and people with compromised immune systems are at particularly high risk.

The BBC reported that, according to China’s National Health Commission, around 80 percent of COVID-19 fatalities had occurred in those over the age of 60, and 75 percent of deceased patients had underlying health conditions at the time of their infection.

How is the novel coronavirus transmitted?

The virus can be spread via sneezing and coughing, and perhaps via direct contact when no symptoms present. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 30 reported that a patient passed it to multiple colleagues before developing symptoms, but that study has since been retracted. Science Magazine and The Washington Post report that this woman actually had mild, unspecific symptoms at the time she transmitted COVID-19 to several coworkers. For now, it is unclear whether or not completely asymptomatic patients can infect others with the virus, but the mild nature of symptoms in many patients suggests one could be contagious without feeling particularly unwell.

According to the CDC, person-to-person transmission is most likely to occur via respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing, which can land in a bystander’s nose or mouth or be inhaled. The CDC says it is “currently unclear” if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching their face, mouth, or eyes—but practicing the same basic hygiene you would implement to avoid a cold or flu should significantly cut down on your risk of getting sick, even if you’re in close quarters with someone who has COVID-19.

Is COVID-19 worse than SARS?

As Ed Yong reports for The Atlantic, COVID-19’s numbers are surging above confirmed SARS cases but that may not be as alarming as it appears; health officials around the world are doing a much better job of tracking and diagnosing cases of the novel virus, and it’s far too soon to know how much this may be inflating its apparent scale.

Experts say China’s handling of the new outbreak shows a drastic improvement in public health policy compared to the mishandling of SARS. Back in 2003, officials denied the existence of the outbreak seemingly as long as possible and didn’t cooperate with the international community to manage the disease. While there’s some question about whether officials in Wuhan moved quickly enough—and whether the central government approved the release of information as immediately as it should have—the country has been more forthcoming. Scientists were also much quicker to sequence the genome of this new virus than the one behind SARS, and released it to international research collaborators on January 10.

What is China doing to contain the novel coronavirus?

Wuhan, a city of around 11 million people, as well as much of the surrounding Hubei Province, remains on lockdown, with some reports suggesting residents have suffered diminished access to food and medical supplies due to their forced isolation. On Thursday, state media reported that businesses had been told to remain closed through next week at least, and that the government was sending medical workers and supplies to Hubei Province. The New York Times reports that efforts to round up sick individuals in Wuhan and the surrounding province have been chaotic, with families being forced apart and many of the ill being forced into isolation without access to medical assistance.

“If the province was not sealed off, some people would have gone all around the country to try to get medical help, and would have turned the whole nation into an epidemic-stricken area,” Yang Gonghuan, former deputy director general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told Bloomberg. “The quarantine brought a lot of hardship to Hubei and Wuhan, but it was the right thing to do.”

Some of the first physicians to call attention to the novel coronavirus in December were reprimanded by the government for spreading rumors, according to CNN, but citizens are now being encouraged to help keep the virus from spreading. Chinese state media reported on Thursday that Li Wenliang, one of the early whistle blowers, had died of COVID-19, but then reported hours later that he was merely in critical condition. Once his death was officially confirmed, The Washington Post reported last week, millions of Chinese citizens participated in “a remarkable but short-lived digital uprising” before censors scrubbed their posts from social media. The New York Times reported that, in a rare response to public pressure, the U.S. government had announced plans to send an “investigation team” to Wuhan to probe issues related to the silencing of the 34-year-old doctor and his colleagues.

CBS reported that senior members of China’s Community Party admitted to “shortcomings and deficiencies” in the country’s response and welcomed the assistance of outside experts from an incoming WHO team.

What is the U.S. doing to prevent further spread of COVID-19?

All confirmed U.S. patients are being treated in isolation.

In January the Trump Administration put a temporary travel ban in place, despite the fact that WHO does not currently recommend any travel or trade restrictions.

Foreign nationals who have traveled to China in the last 14 days—with the exception of permanent U.S. residents and the immediate family of citizens—won’t be allowed into the country. Citizens and permanent residents will be subject to 14-day quarantines if they return to the country within two weeks of visiting Hubei province in China, and must agree to monitoring and a self-imposed quarantine of the same length if they have traveled anywhere in China.

“This is an aggressive action by the United States,” Messonnier told press on February 3. “We made an aggressive decision in front of an unprecedented threat.”

She added, however, that the risk to Americans was still considered quite low, and that these screening precautions can’t keep all cases at bay.

Some 200 U.S. diplomats and other citizens were evacuated from mainland China and arrived in California in January. The passengers were kept confined to assigned housing on an Air Force base to ensure they didn’t have the virus, but have now been released. At a press conference on February 5, Messonnier reported that four additional planes would bring Americans home from Wuhan, with CDC medical staff posted to provide screening, monitoring, and treatment throughout a mandatory quarantine at military bases in Nebraska, California, and Texas. The three most recent U.S. cases have been identified in those facilities.

“This could be the beginning of what could be a long response,” Messonnier told reporters.

Delta, American, and United Airlines have all temporarily halted their flights between the US and mainland China following a law suit filed by the Allied Pilots Association arguing that such flights posed an unacceptable risk to crew. Last week, American Airlines suspended some of its flights to and from Hong Kong as well.

Is there a treatment or a vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus?

Several pharmaceutical companies and research institutions around the globe are working to find potential treatments or vaccines for COVID-19. But it could easily take months to get a formula that works well enough to test on humans, let alone something that can be broadly deployed.

Many claims of cures or preventative treatments are circulating online, but the WHO confirms that there’s no known supplement, food, or medication that can protect people from COVID-19. However, it is advisable to get a flu shot if you have yet to do so, as the similar symptoms between the two viruses could lead those with influenza to take up valuable space and time in hospitals, and since a compromised immune system could leave you more susceptible to catching COVID-19.

What can people do to avoid catching COVID-19?

The WHO advises travelers who may come into contact with the virus to follow basic precautions, such as avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing and frequently washing hands thoroughly. Travelers to China, and especially the Hubei area, should avoid living and dead animals and uncooked meat or raw milk, wash hands often, and stay clear of visibly sick people.

Face masks aren’t particularly helpful in preventing infection when healthy people wear them (their main benefit is to keep the virus from spreading via coughs and sneezes), and hoarding them can do more harm than good by limiting the available supply for health practitioners and causing prices to spike.

“This situation is exacerbated by widespread use of personal protective equipment outside patient care,” WHO Director-General Tedros said at a press conference last week.

Anyone who’s recently traveled to the Wuhan area or come into close contact with someone who has should keep on the lookout for symptoms and talk to a doctor immediately if they develop a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. Those who’ve recently traveled to China and are feeling unwell should call ahead before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, as healthcare practitioners should aim to limit direct contact between the patient and other individuals.