The Coronavirus Newsletter: First Cases In Maryland, SXSW Canceled

In today's edition of Outbreak Today: The University of Washington is closing its classrooms, South by Southwest is canceled, and how South Korea is leading the world in responding to the crisis.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the coronavirus outbreak. This newsletter will do its best to put everything we do know in one place each day. We’re not about sensationalizing things, freaking people out, or speculating about how bad it’s going to get. Do you have questions you want answered? You can always get in touch. And if you're someone who is seeing the impact of this firsthand, we’d also love to hear from you (you can reach out to us via one of our tip line channels). And if someone forwarded this to you, you can sign up here.

And with that, here’s what we know as of Friday, March 6.

Coronavirus in the US

As of Thursday afternoon, there have been 260 confirmed cases and 14 deaths in the US. These numbers were accurate when we sent this out; you can get the latest figures from our live tracker.

Maryland reported its first coronavirus cases late last night. Three people contracted the virus while traveling overseas: a husband and wife in their seventies and a woman in her fifties. The three had reportedly been on a cruise ship.

Nurses are warning that their hospitals are not prepared for major outbreaks. Of the 6,500 who took a survey by the National Nurses United union, less than half said their employer gave them the information needed to identify potential cases and respond to them.

The University of Washington is closing all its classrooms and students will study and take exams remotely for the remainder of the winter quarter, which ends March 20. Washington state has been at the center of the outbreak in the US, but universities around the country may soon follow its lead, the New York Times reported.

The 2020 South by Southwest conference and festivals have been canceled. "This is a medical and data-driven decision," Austin city officials said when announcing the cancellation.

For important information and updates, check the CDC’s dedicated coronavirus site. If you’re feeling sick and are worried it might be coronavirus, here’s a simple, step-by-step guide for what you should do.

What to do if you think you have coronavirus

One of the most common questions we’ve been getting from readers is exactly what people should do if they feel sick and suspect it might be coronavirus.

First things first: Don’t panic. Even if you are infected, which is still unlikely, most people make a full recovery and do not get seriously ill. But because some people are especially vulnerable — particularly the elderly and those who already have serious medical conditions — it’s important for every single one of us to pay attention, be good citizens and neighbors, and know how to keep each other safe.

So what should you do if you think you might have it? To begin with, here are the symptoms to look out for: a fever, cough, or respiratory issues such as shortness of breath.

If you have one of those symptoms, what to do next depends on a few things. We’ve put together a simple flowchart to help you know which steps to take — take a look here. Bookmark it, pass it around to friends and family, and again: Don’t panic!

What we’re reading

How many Americans have really been tested?
The single biggest failure in the US response to the crisis has been the slow rollout of coronavirus tests. It’s still extremely hard to get tested in most states — and federal authorities are not revealing how many tests have been done. The Atlantic contacted health departments in every state and gathered the best estimate it could find, and the number is shocking: fewer than 2,000 tests, nationwide.

Tip of the day
Rejoice, window seat fans: It’s the safest seat on an airplane. You’ll find that and a whole bunch more pro tips in this guide to traveling during the outbreak.

Quote of the day
“The date was really bad, but that was irrelevant to coronavirus.”
— Amanda, 23, who left a self-imposed quarantine to go on a date, in Julia Reinstein’s wonderful Love in a Time of Coronavirus

Handshakes are canceled
But what do we replace them with? Foot taps? Disco hip-bumps? Military-style salutes? We’re taking a poll to find out which option is the choice of the masses; please go and vote. With more than 1,000 votes already cast, a wave is currently in the lead, with the respectful hand-held-over-heart coming in a close second.

Coronavirus around the world

As of Friday, March 6, there have been 101,601 confirmed cases and 3,460 deaths globally. These numbers are changing by the hour; you can get the latest figures from our live tracker.

South Korea’s response to the crisis appears to be a model for the rest of the world. It’s had the biggest outbreak outside of China, but has not shut down cities or imposed strict limits on movement. Instead, if focused on a massive testing program: Hundreds of thousands of people have been tested so far, Bloomberg News reported, and it’s getting results, with lower mortality rates and a drop in the number of new cases.

China’s response, while apparently effective in containing the spread of the virus, contained plenty of missteps. “A series of early missteps, dating back to the very first patients, were compounded by political leaders who dragged their feet to inform the public of the risks and to take decisive control measures,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Peace Corps volunteers in China were evacuated in late January, but the process was very messy, reported Dan Vergano. They were flown to a hotel in Thailand, then abruptly fired, and then many returned to the US with no self-quarantine.

One last thing

You've heard all about how important it is to wash your hands. Wash them well, and wash them often. And one of the tips you might have heard is to spend at least 20 seconds doing it — that's how long it takes to be effective. But how do you time out 20 seconds? Sing an entire round of "Happy Birthday to You" is the answer that keeps going around.

But "Happy Birthday to You" is a terrible song! So via a random WeWork bathroom, and Cecile G. Tamura on Facebook, here are a few vastly superior options.

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