Book:COVID-19 Testing, Reporting, and Information Management in the Laboratory/Overview of COVID-19 and its challenges/COVID-19: History and impact (so far)

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1.2 COVID-19: History and impact (so far)

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, typically yielding varying levels of short- and long-term symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, chest pain, heart palpitations, brain fog, and mood changes.[1][2] A majority of cases yield relatively mild symptoms, but some progress to life-threatening short- and long-term situations involving pneumonia, organ failure, cardiovascular complications, renal complications, neurological complications, and psychiatric issues.[2][3][4][5][6]

The first known case of COVID-19 dates back to November 2019, "according to government data seen by the South China Morning Post"[7], though additional research has suggested an even earlier timeline. A non-peer-reviewed report released by Harvard Medical School in June 2020 suggested that circumstantial evidence of higher traffic around hospitals even a month earlier may push the Wuhan timeline back further.[8] Stories of routinely analyzed wastewater samples from locations in Brazil[9] and Italy[10] may likewise indicate that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was circulating earlier than initially gauged. And June 2021 peer-reviewed research by Roberts et al. suggests the possibility of COVID-19 beginning to spread as early as early October.[11]

By the middle of December, infections were at 27, and by the end of the year the number was 266.[7] By that time, Chinese health authorities had been updated that the pneumonia-like symptoms of patients in China's Hubei province may have been the symptoms of a disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus[7], and the WHO was notified.[12] At the start of 2020, that number grew to 381 known cases[7], jumping to more than 7,700 confirmed and 12,000 suspected cases by the end of January.[13] By that time, the WHO had convened a second meeting of its Emergency Committee to discuss the declaration of a PHEIC, saying the then-called "2019-nCoV" constituted a health emergency of international concern.[13] This spurred the publishing of WHO technical advice to other countries, with a focus on "reducing human infection, prevention of secondary transmission and international spread, and contributing to the international response."[13] However, at the same time, the virus was already beginning to spread in locations such as Australia[14], France[15], Germany[16] Italy[17], Japan[18], South Korea[19], Spain[20], the United Kingdom[21], and the United States.[22]

As the disease continued to spread in February 2020, naming conventions came together, with the WHO declaring the disease's name "COVID-19," short for "coronavirus disease 2019."[23][24] By the end of the month, the WHO warned a "very high" likelihood the virus's spread could turn into a full pandemic.[25] Less than two weeks later, on March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 a pandemic, noting more than 118,000 confirmed cases and 4,000 deaths on all continents except Antarctica.[26] By November 2020, the pandemic had become more serious, in the U.S. in particular; hospitals became overwhelmed—the most recorded COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic started[27]—and the pandemic became "a humanitarian crisis."[28] The U.S. FDA issued its first and second Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a COVID-19 vaccine, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine[29] and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine[30], in December 2020, giving hope that a much wider vaccine roll-out would happen by late winter and early spring of 2021 in the U.S.[31] However, concerns that wealthier residents and countries would largely lead the charge while leaving poorer residents and countries behind were heavily vocalized.[31][32]

Governmental reaction to the pandemic around the globe has varied significantly since the pandemic's declaration in March 2020. Some of that variance can be seen when reviewing the various policies implemented by the world's governments. The International Monetary Fund's policy tracker for COVID-19 response, for example, paints a picture of the laboratory testing, social, transportation, trade, and financial situations of each country. Reviewing the policy tracker reveals a diverse set of approaches from country to country, some significant and enduring, others limited and weak. [33] Another source for examining government reaction is through the collation of data on how governments have implemented technological tracking measures in the name of slowing the epidemic. Groups like Privacy International collate such information through their collective tracking project, which links to hundreds of news stories concerning the use of mobile phone data, drones, and other surveillance mechanisms for tracking and enforcing quarantines; geolocation tracking though phones; and the implementation of facial recognition technology as part of a COVID-19 mitigation strategy.[34] Other projects such as the University of Oxford's COVID-19 Government Response Tracker also paint a broad picture of governments' responses to the pandemic using a wide variety of indicators, including school closures, travel restrictions, and vaccination policies. The University of Oxford maintains a core working paper and monthly regional reports, painting a picture of more governments decreasing policy changes as vaccination roll-out continues.[35]

Citizen reaction to the pandemic has also varied. Local governments in China have been criticized[36][37], while the central government has, at least at times, been seen in positive light for its handling of the pandemic.[38][39][40] Some Indians have criticized their government for its police brutality during lockdowns[41], while some Italians have criticized their government for trivializing the situation for too long.[42] In the U.S.—and in other parts of the world—criticism has at times been significant concerning the United States government's response[43][44][45][46], though some governors have received praise for standing up for their state's citizens.[47][48][49] American's views of presidential handling of the COVID-19 crisis have varied. During President Trump's tenure, Americans increasingly expressed disapproval with the U.S. president's handling of the COVID-19 crisis, from 47.8% dissapproval on April 8 to 57.1% disasapproval by the end of his term.[50], which seemingly aligned with his attempts to downplay the existence of the COVID-19 virus.[51][52] Americans' perceptions of President Biden's handling of COVID-19 began strong, at above 60% approval, but has weakened over time to 52.9% as of September 2021, largely falling along partisan lines.[50]

It's difficult to truly quantitatively (or qualitatively) measure the impact of COVID-19 on the world, let alone the United States. From the start of the pandemic there have been significant job losses[53] and bankruptcies[54], to poor mental health impacts[55] and postponed cancer surgeries.[56] With time, some firmer numbers have become known, however. As of August 31, 2021, the number of global confirmed cases of COVID-19 was more than 216 million, with more than 4.5 million people dead.[57] As of July 2021, out of more than 320 vaccine candidates, 99 were still in clinical testing, 25 had reached Phase III efficacy studies, and 18 had received some form of formal approval.[58] Some 3.2 billion doses of vaccine had been administered globally as of July 2021 (with the caveat that only ~1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose), and nearly 11 billion doses were still needed to fully vaccinate 70% of the world's population.[59] Other statistics include:

  • "The global economy contracted by 3.5 percent in 2020 according to the April 2021 World Economic Outlook Report published by the IMF, a 7 percent loss relative to the 3.4 percent growth forecast back in October 2019."[60]
  • "At a global scale, the fiscal support [applied to COVID-19] reached nearly $16 trillion (around 15 percent of global GDP) in 2020."[60]
  • As of July 2021, some 10 percent of American adults have reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat in a given week, compared to 3.4 percent for the entirety of 2019.[61]
  • "An estimated 11.4 million [U.S.] adults living in rental housing—16 percent of adult renters—were not caught up on rent" as of the beginning of July 2021, with an additional 7.4 million estimated to not be caught up on mortgage payments.[61]
  • "Some 63 million [U.S.] adults—27 percent of all adults in the country—reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to cover usual expenses in the past seven days," as of the beginning of July 2021.[61]

Despite the remaining unknowns and difficulties facing societies everywhere, what has long been known and remains true, however, is that preventative measures such as wearing masks[62], getting vaccinated[58], and getting tested for exposure[63] remain vital in order to further limit the negative consequences of the pandemic.


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