A newly identified coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is spreading across the globe. Here’s what you need to know about the virus and the disease it causes, called COVID-19.
Update on Tuesday, March 3 (ET):
—3,131 deaths have been linked to the virus. Deaths worldwide exceed those from SARS. And 48,190 individuals have recovered from COVID-19.
—Cases of coronavirus in South Korea have skyrocketed to 5,186, where about 60% of the cases are somehow linked to members of a secret religious sect.
—The U.K. announced its first local transmission of COVID-19 in a man from Surrey, England, who had not traveled abroad recently, the BBC reported.
—Sub-Saharan Africa confirmed its first COVID-19 case in a man in his 30s, the Post reported.
Washington state reports three more deaths from coronavirus.
Washington state reported three more deaths from the coronavirus on Tuesday (March 3), according to The Washington Post. All three deaths were in King County.
One of these deaths occurred last week, on Feb. 26, but doctors only recently discovered that samples from the patient tested positive for the virus, according to The New York Times. The patient was being treated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and was a resident of the long-term care facility Life Care Center of Kirkland, where officials suspect an outbreak of coronavirus is occuring. So far, five deaths have been linked to the facility, according to The Seattle Times.
Diagnostic tests in the U.S.
After botching its initial attempt at a COVID-19 diagnostic test, and taking weeks to develop a replacement, the U.S. government has enlisted the help of private companies and academic institutions to expand the nation’s testing capacity, The New York Times reported. According to “the estimates we’re getting from industry right now, by the end of this week, close to a million tests will be able to be performed,” FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a press briefing on Monday (Mar. 2).
Last week, the FDA enabled state and local laboratories to develop and validate their own diagnostic tests and conduct initial testing on their own, rather than sending samples to the CDC’s laboratory in Atlanta, according to the Times.
The CDC tests use a PCR-based protocol, meaning they pinpoint bits of viral DNA in swabbed samples from a patient’s nose and throat, according to The Scientist. Many of the other tests in development follow the same approach, but some labs aim to use the gene-editing technique CRISPR to highlight the target genes with fluorescent tags, The Scientist reported. Other groups are working to isolate antibodies from infected people in order to develop blood tests for the virus.
Coronavirus on Super Tuesday
As voters head to the polls in 14 states for Super Tuesday, some areas are taking extra precautions in light of the growing number of coronavirus cases in the U.S.
In Solano County, California, which has three confirmed cases of coronavirus, officials said they had expanded the number of “curbside” ballot drop-off locations, where people can turn in their ballots from their car, and had stocked up on gloves for poll workers according to The New York Times. In nearby Sacramento County, about a dozen temporary election clerks have opted out of their assignments for election day “for fear of being in public spaces,” according to The Sacramento Bee. Still, the county has nearly 700 election clerks and does not anticipate an impact on voting, officials said.
In Colorado, poll workers have been instructed to disinfect polling machines after each use, the Times reported. And in Massachusetts, officials said people under quarantine for coronavirus will be allowed to have someone pick up their ballot and take them to an election office.
How far has the coronavirus spread in the U.S.?
The U.S. now has more than 100 confirmed coronavirus cases and six deaths (all deaths have been in Washington state). There have been 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington state and seven of those individuals have died from the virus, all of whom had underlying health conditions. Most of the deaths occurred at the EvergreenHealth Health Medical Center in Kirkland, in King County, according to the Seattle Times. By comparing genetic sequences of two of the cases in Kirkland, scientists say the virus could’ve been spreading for up to six weeks there, and if so, that would mean it could have infected between 150 and 1,500 individuals, the New York Times reported.
A woman in Manhattan has become the first coronavirus case reported in New York state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday (March 1), according to the Times. That woman, who recently traveled to Iran, is isolated in her home. The second case in the state was reported on March 3 in a man who lives in Westchester County and works in Manhattan.
The virus has now been confirmed in the following U.S. states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, Florida, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Why are coronavirus cases so high in South Korea?
The outbreak in South Korea seems to have begun at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Daegu, where a 61-year-old woman spread the virus to at least 37 others. Considered a “superspreader” for the abnormally high number of people she infected, the woman (called “Patient 31” by Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) developed a fever on Feb. 10 and attended four church services before being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Currently, at least 60% of the 5,186 confirmed cases in South Korea are linked in some way to members of this secret religious sect, the Times reported. There have been at least 28 deaths from the virus in South Korea.
The founder of the religious sect, 88-year-old Lee Man-hee is being accused by the government of thwarting their efforts to contain the virus, the Times reported. The government has accused him of not sharing the full list of the sect’s members so they could be tested. On Monday (March 2), Lee apologized to the people of South Korea, saying he was sorry that so many of the cases are tied to his church, the Times reported.
Coronavirus cases outside mainland China
The spread of the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 is slowing down in mainland China, while it is picking up elsewhere. It has reached every continent except Antarctica. Outside mainland China, 173 deaths have been linked to the virus: in the U.S., Italy, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Iran, France and six Diamond Princess passengers.
Here’s a look at the number of cases in hotspots outside mainland China, according to a Johns Hopkins dashboard:
South Korea: 5,186
Hong Kong: 100
How does coronavirus compare to SARS and MERS?
As of March, there were more than 3,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, far exceeding deaths from SARS, which killed 774 individuals worldwide, according to The New York Times.
MERS and SARS have both been known to cause severe symptoms in people. It’s unclear how the new coronavirus will compare in severity, as it has caused severe symptoms and death in some patients while causing only mild illness in others, according to the CDC. All three of the coronaviruses can be transmitted between humans through close contact.
MERS, which was transmitted from touching infected camels or consuming their meat or milk, was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and has mostly been contained in the Arabian Peninsula, according to NPR. SARS was first reported in 2002 in southern China (no new cases have been reported since 2004) and is thought to have spread from bats that infected civets. The new coronavirus was likely transmitted from touching or eating an infected animal in Wuhan.
During the SARS outbreak, the virus killed about 1 in 10 people who were infected. The death rate from COVID-19 is estimated to be a little over 2%.
Still, in the beginning of an outbreak, the initial cases that are identified “skew to the severe,” which may make the mortality rate seem higher than it is, Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Homeland Security (HHS), said during a news briefing on Tuesday (Jan. 28). The mortality rate may drop as more mild cases are identified, Azar said.
Currently, most of the patients who have died from the infection have been older than 60 and have had preexisting conditions.
Jeanna Bryner, Tia Ghose, Rachael Rettner, Yasemin Saplakoglu and Nicoletta Lanese contributed reporting.
Originally published on Live Science.
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