WHO (The World Health Organization) officially declared the corona virus a pandemic this morning, saying “We don’t take the word ‘pandemic‘ lightly.” What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic – and does it matter?
By definition, an epidemic is an outbreak of disease that attacks many people at about the same time and may spread through one or several communities.
A pandemic is when an epidemic spreads throughout the world. The primary difference between an epidemic and a pandemic has to do with scale. A pandemic spreads throughout a country or throughout the world.
If a virus is spreading quickly like a wildfire, it’s an epidemic. If a virus has already spread like wildfire and is currently massive in its reach and impact, it’s a pandemic. The coronavirus, or more specifically, the COVID-19 virus, is now classified as a pandemic. And while it’s not inherent in the strict definition of the word, you can generally assume that a pandemic is much more serious and requires more extreme measures to take control of it. So from the announcement from the WHO, we must pay close attention to this virus to try and contain it.
What makes the COVID-19 virus so massive? Consider that Italy has quarantined the entire country with a population of sixteen million. Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that two-thirds of the German population was likely to contract the virus, following outbreaks in Italy and across East Asia. That’s a population of about 83 million people.
The coronavirus has been detected in at least 108 countries and has killed 4,574 people. More than half of the people that have been affected have recovered.
With just over 1,000 cases identified in the United States, you might wonder, why the panic? That number is way below the numbers we are seeing in other countries. And why are people acting so afraid?
For one thing, it’s the rate at which it is spreading. At the very least you will see the number doubling from day-to-day in some areas. The other factor making people afraid is that of the unknown – human beings are programmed to fear the unknown. At first, COVID-19 was thought to spread by human-to-human contact. It wasn’t long before it was discovered that many people in the United States are infected despite having no known connection to previous cases. That fact alone can be frightening.
There is another thing that is not helping the fear factor and at the same time is speeding up the spread of the disease, and that is the subject of testing. The United States is lagging far behind for testing the coronavirus and that is a dangerous proposition.
There were missed opportunities at the beginning of the outbreak in which the federal government could do more testing and containment would have been easier. Weeks have gone by in some states where they are still waiting for testing kits. Two of those states are California and New York with huge populations. And the testing itself is even under threat because of a shortage of lab materials.
What you can do is err on the cautious side. No matter the consoling statements from the White House or other “experts,” do not underestimate this virus. It is a pandemic. As the World Health Organization says, “don’t take the word ‘pandemic’ lightly.”