March 12, 2020
Novel Coronavirus and its Consequences for Global Health, March 11, 2020
The French-American Foundation hosted its March Transatlantic Forum on the novel coronavirus with guest speaker Dr. Megan Coffee, infectious disease physician at Bellevue Hospital and Assistant Professor at NYU. The same day, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, underlying the risk of further global spread.
Approaching the discussion from an expert’s point of view, Dr. Coffee presented fact-based and documented remarks on the virus itself, underlying its origin from bats and its consequences for human health. She described the differences and similarities of COVID-19 with influenza and previous infectious diseases the world has been exposed to, noting that the presumably longer incubation period associated with respiratory spread and a large proportion of asymptomatic and undiagnosed individuals make it harder to prevent at-risk people from exposure.
Experts are now expecting between 40% and 60% of the population will be infected. Under these circumstances, the challenge for government officials is to slow the spread of the virus to allow hospital and healthcare providers to prepare for the surge of people in need of respiratory support. At this stage, it is estimated that 15% of infected people will develop severe symptoms, with a small portion needing intensive care.
When asked by the audience what measures should be taken to slow the spread, she insists on the crucial role of Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs), testing, and equipment for healthcare providers.
So far, countries have taken different approaches to contain the crisis and implemented various guidelines and public health control measures. Dr. Coffee commented on Singapore and South Korea which have been successful in limiting the spread of the virus. Today, measures including isolation of patients and contacts to prevent secondary spread have been implemented in multiple countries. However, it is not yet clear if these actions will be enough to contain the spread.