The disease originated in Wuhan, China, in late December and quickly spread worldwide
The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, the first since the zika epidemic in 2016.
At first, this coronavirus was contained to China, but Wuhan is a major transportation hub with hundreds of flights leaving and landing from the city of 11 million each day. Soon, as people flew from the area to different countries, the coronavirus reached more countries, including the United States.
As of March 10, there have been 730 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., and 26 deaths.
The first case was found in Everett, Washington, just outside of Seattle, in a man who had recently returned from Wuhan. The number of cases grew slowly from there, with a total of just 14 over the course of about a month, but as February came to an end, the virus began to spread more rapidly in communities across the U.S.
On Feb. 26, California health officials announced the first case of community spread — meaning someone had contracted coronavirus despite no recent travel, and had likely unknowingly come in contact with someone with the disease. From there, the number of U.S. cases jumped up, particularly in Washington state, where there are now 141 people with coronavirus, and 19 deaths.
The first death came on Saturday, in a woman in her 50s with pre-existing health conditions. The second followed just one day later, in a man in his 70s who also had pre-existing health conditions and was living in a long-term nursing facility near Seattle. Health officials have since announced 17 more deaths in the state with most coming from patients at the nursing facility.
The State Department chartered three flights to bring Americans who had been living in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, back to the U.S., and three of the passengers are currently quarantined to recover from coronavirus. And in mid-February, the State Department decided to fly back Americans who had been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had been quarantined in Japan after an outbreak of coronavirus among the passengers. Currently, there are 46 American passengers from that ship with coronavirus who are quarantined around the U.S.
Several of the early U.S. coronavirus patients have since left the hospital and are recovering at home.
The vast majority of cases and deaths had been confined to mainland China until the last two weeks, when a major outbreaks occurred in South Korea, Italy and Iran.
The increase in cases outside of China led the CDC to urge Americans to start preparing for the virus to spread in the U.S. with the “expectation that this will be bad.”
“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said in a press briefing on Feb. 25.
Though the CDC says that the risk of contracting coronavirus is still “low,” they advised that people plan for a “significant disruption to their lives,” and coming up with alternative options for if schools and offices are closed.
The CDC also says that the best prevention methods are basic forms of hygiene — careful handwashing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.