Right here’s what we’ve realized in six months of COVID-19 — and what we nonetheless don’t know

Simply six months in the past, the World Well being Group bought a troubling report from Chinese language well being officers. A thriller pneumonia had sickened dozens of individuals in Wuhan. That virus, which had crossed from an unknown animal host to people, has now upended lives worldwide with head-spinning velocity.

Though virologists had lengthy warned of the pandemic potential of some coronaviruses circulating in bats in China, the virus launched a shock-and-awe assault that researchers and public well being staff are nonetheless scrambling to know and management (SN: 11/30/17). That assault has upset every little thing from day-to-day life to whole economies, and turned the routine — going to highschool, popping right into a restaurant, hanging out with associates — dangerous. The world at present is a far totally different place than when the primary experiences of an odd pneumonia in Wuhan, China, made the information.

COVID-19: The primary six months

This story is one in a collection wanting on the first six months of the pandemic.

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Now international locations have begun to reopen, with fingers crossed that they’ve a deal with on the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2. Many are shortly studying that they will’t let down their guard. Officers in Beijing, as an example, reinstated a restricted lockdown June 13 within the space round Xinfandi market in response to a cluster of COVID-19 instances. And after New Zealand eradicated the virus and lifted restrictions on June 8, officers confirmed two new instances on June 15 in contaminated vacationers from the UK.

Different international locations by no means bought their outbreaks beneath sufficient management within the first place. As an example, whereas the rise in COVID-19 instances in elements of the USA has ebbed, the variety of infections elsewhere largely spared within the spring, together with Texas, Florida and Arizona, is now spiking.

With unprecedented efforts to review the virus and its impacts, scientists have realized a unprecedented quantity in an awfully quick time frame and overturned some early assumptions. At first, public well being officers made suggestions on how the virus would possibly behave and the way greatest to guard oneself from it primarily based on previous experiences with two of the pathogen’s shut family — extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or SARS-CoV, and Center Japanese respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. However a few of these preliminary assumptions turned out to be fallacious, and there’s nonetheless a lot that researchers want to determine. 

What a distinction six months makes

Here’s a take a look at how scientists’ understanding of the virus has developed within the six months since its discovery. 


Within the first days of the pandemic, Chinese language officers reported that the brand new coronavirus doesn’t simply transmit from individual to individual. 


By January 20, it turned clear that the virus could be handed from one human to a different, even earlier than signs seem, not like SARS and MERS. Individuals who by no means show signs may cross the brand new virus to others. 


Coronaviruses like SARS and MERS are likely to infect deep within the lungs, so the brand new coronavirus might be unfold primarily by folks with signs, reminiscent of a cough, or throughout such medical procedures as being intubated.


Along with lung cells, SARS-CoV-2 may infect cells within the nostril, which can clarify how folks can transmit it to others earlier than feeling sick. Speaking or respiratory could also be sufficient to unfold the virus.


The earliest indicators of sickness embrace fever, shortness of breath or cough, the U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention listed in January.


A wider vary of signs, together with fatigue, diarrhea and physique aches, can counsel an individual has COVID-19. One of many clearest indicators could also be lack of scent and style.


Older folks above age 65 are at highest threat for creating extreme illness.


Age continues to be a threat issue for extreme signs, however underlying situations like hypertension, weight problems and diabetes additionally increase threat. Racial disparities have additionally come to mild. In the USA, Black, Indigenous and Hispanic individuals are getting contaminated or dying at larger charges than white folks.


Kids are largely spared from the illness.


That is nonetheless true relative to different age teams, although researchers aren’t certain why. However low threat doesn’t imply no threat. Some youngsters can develop a harmful inflammatory situation linked to COVID-19.


An contaminated individual will transmit the virus to 2 or three different folks, on common.


With social distancing and phone tracing, many locations, together with China, South Korea and New Zealand, have introduced the an infection charge from two to 3 right down to under one. However in sure areas, together with India, Latin America and elements of the USA, folks should still be passing the virus on to a couple of different individual. And with out stringent public well being measures in place, massive gatherings have led to clusters of infections.


Of people that take a look at optimistic for the virus, round Four p.c die. 


Demise charges differ attributable to partly to variations in testing amongst international locations. (For instance, if solely folks with extreme illness get examined which may inflate the case fatality charge.) Pinpointing a world charge received’t be clear till the top of the pandemic. However antibody testing has allowed scientists to estimate that the an infection fatality charge — a measure that features individuals who weren’t examined, maybe as a result of they’d gentle or no signs — could also be round 0.6 p.c in some locations.


Solely sick folks ought to put on masks, in line with steerage from WHO and the CDC.


With information displaying asymptomatic folks can unfold the virus, each businesses now suggest that each one folks put on masks in public. The effectiveness of cloth masks was in query early on, however research now counsel that these masks might help curb transmission of the virus — if most individuals put on them.


There are not any therapies for contaminated folks and no vaccines to curb the virus’ unfold. 


After a speedy push to check current medication towards the brand new coronavirus, some have proven promise, whereas others fell out of the working. Remdesivir might velocity restoration in sick sufferers. Dexamethasone might scale back the chance of dying. The malaria medication hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have proven no profit for contaminated folks. Greater than 150 coronavirus vaccines are in growth, with 20 in scientific trials in folks. 

So what don’t we all know but?

Six months is an extremely quick time to have realized as a lot as researchers have a couple of new virus. However there’s nonetheless a lot to study. Some questions merely take time to reply. 

For instance, it’s nonetheless unclear why the brand new virus is a lot extra contagious than its SARS and MERS family — every of which have contaminated fewer than 10,000 folks. It’s additionally unknown how typically asymptomatic folks unfold the virus (SN: 6/9/20).

Some scientists proceed to probe how the virus will get out and in of cells and what sorts of cells it may infect, from lung cells to these within the gut. Others are on the hunt for what animal the virus jumped into folks from, which might help scientists perceive how the virus made the soar and information insurance policies to observe these animals for associated coronaviruses.

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By way of the illness itself, researchers nonetheless don’t know what number of virus particles an individual should be uncovered to with a view to get sick, or why some folks develop into severely unwell and others don’t. Some sufferers — even these with milder signs — should still have long-term well being issues after they recuperate (SN: 4/27/20). And though individuals who recuperate seem to make antibodies that defend towards a reinfection with the virus, solely time will inform how lengthy that immune safety would possibly final. Solutions to those and different questions are essential to these planning the best way to safely reopen companies and faculties.

One factor scientists do know is that the coronavirus isn’t going away any time quickly, if ever. It can take herd immunity, when a minimum of two-thirds of a inhabitants has immunity towards the virus both as a result of they’ve been contaminated or there’s a vaccine, to lastly start to curb the pandemic. Each of these goalposts are nonetheless far off for now, although some have mentioned there might be a vaccine by the top of the 12 months. As we head into the following six months, researchers will continue learning new issues concerning the virus as shortly as doable. And so the dash turns into a marathon.

How we went from a thriller sickness to a rising world pandemic in six months

Lots of the first recognized COVID-19 instances had been uncovered to the virus on the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, China (seen right here earlier than it was closed down).Imaginechina Restricted/Alamy Inventory Picture

The start of the pandemic can appear to be a lifetime in the past. Listed below are some key occasions and discoveries.

December 14–27, 2019

A number of individuals who had been uncovered to the coronavirus at a Wuhan moist meals market, known as Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, are hospitalized with a pneumonia-like illness.

December 31

Chinese language officers notify the World Well being Group of a cluster of 41 pneumonia instances of unknown trigger.

January 9, 2020

WHO declares the perpetrator behind the pneumonia instances is a novel coronavirus. Its genetic sequence is launched a day later.

January 13

The primary recognized case of an infection with the novel coronavirus is reported exterior of China, in Thailand.

January 21

The primary COVID-19 case is reported in the USA, a Seattle man who had not too long ago returned from Wuhan.

January 22

The primary lockdown happens when China shuts down Wuhan, ultimately affecting greater than 35 million residents.

January 24

The primary COVID-19 instances in Europe (in France) are reported. A Lancet retrospective research traces the primary recognized COVID-19 an infection again to December 1.

January 30

WHO declares the outbreak a public well being emergency.

February 4

Greater than 2,500 visitors and 1,000 crew members aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship are quarantined off the coast of Japan.

Greater than 700 folks on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship have been contaminated with the coronavirus.Carl Court docket/Getty Pictures

February 9

The dying toll from COVID-19 surpasses that of the 2002–03 SARS outbreak, which killed 774 folks.

March 11

WHO declares the outbreak a pandemic.

March 16

The primary vaccine trials start in the USA and China.

April 2

The worldwide variety of documented instances passes 1 million.

Maurian Soares Salvador/iStock/Getty Pictures Plus

April 3

To curb the unfold of COVID-19, the CDC recommends sporting a protecting over the nostril and mouth in public.

April 28

The US hits 1 million reported instances.

April 29

The antiviral remdesivir is the primary drug discovered to dam the coronavirus and velocity restoration.


International locations, together with the USA, the UK and Italy, start to ease lockdown restrictions.

June 16

The steroid dexamethasone is the primary drug discovered to cut back deaths.

June 19

A file excessive variety of worldwide COVID-19 instances — greater than 178,000 — is reported on a single day, prompting WHO director common Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to say the pandemic has entered a “new and harmful section.” Every week later, the world hit a brand new every day excessive: 191,000 new instances.

June 28

International COVID-19 instances surpass 10 million. Greater than half 1,000,000 folks world wide have died of the illness.

Tina Hesman Saey contributed to this story.

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