Starting today, you will notice that CNN is using the term pandemic to describe the current coronavirus outbreak. It is not a decision we take lightly. While we know it sounds alarming, it should not cause panic.
So why now? The World Health Organization hasn't called the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Nor has the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But many epidemiologists and public health experts argue the world is already experiencing a pandemic because of the novel coronavirus. There are now over 100,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths attributed to this new virus. In one day last week, the number of new cases outside of China, where the virus originated, was nearly nine times higher than the number of new cases in China. This virus has found a foothold on every continent except for Antarctica. In several countries, the number of cases continues to climb.
Some of those countries "have had sustained community transmission of a substantial sort," said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor and longtime adviser to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Put that together, that spells pandemic."
The specific criteria for a pandemic are not universally defined, but there are three general criteria: a virus that can cause illness or death; sustained person-to-person transmission of that virus; and evidence of spread throughout the world. The CDC says a pandemic is "an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people," while an epidemic is "an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area."