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What Is a Pandemic?


The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic on February 11, 202 due to the rapidly evolving coronavirus, or COVID-19, which continues to spread globally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pandemics happen when a new novel virus emerges and infects people easily through person-to-person spread. 

This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus, according to WHO. At the time, regulations and tools developed for pandemic influenza were used as guidance for COVID-19 due to the similarities of the virus spread.

The CDC says pandemics usually begin with an investigation phase, which is then followed by recognition, initiation, and acceleration phases. The peak of illness occurs at the end of acceleration, which is then followed by a deceleration phase. Each phase can happen at different times around the world.

The declaration of a pandemic does not change the assessment of threat, nor the ongoing efforts to contain it. But countries have been called to take urgent and aggressive action to stop the spread of COVID-19. That includes relying on the public to practice COVID-19 prevention efforts.

"The implication for the public is to practice good public health preventative measures so they don't get the virus and pass it on to a vulnerable patients," says Emily Spivak, MD, MHS, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health. "Things like social distancing, respiratory etiquette, avoiding going out if you're sick, and staying home are important measures to follow."

Countries are urged to help change the course of the COVID-19 pandemic by scaling up emergency response mechanisms. That includes readying local hospitals and health care clinics and preparing the community for potential spread. "People are encouraged to call ahead of time to plan appropriate testing in a manner that doesn't expose health care providers or patients," Spivak says. "Those who are not severely ill should stay home and not rush to a health care setting to avoid overwhelming health care resources."

You can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by practicing good hand hygiene such as frequently washing your hands and following University of Utah Health guidelines if you have COVID-19 symptoms.