Welcome to the Coronavirus Briefing, a new newsletter from The New York Times. Sign up to get it by email here.
Every weekday, we’ll fill you in on the most important coronavirus developments, put it all in context, and point you to the most useful ways to be prepared.
In this inaugural edition, we’ll also catch you up on the story so far and the things you can do to help keep yourself and your community safe.
The virus is spreading across the U.S.
For weeks, as the virus spread in China and then beyond, U.S. officials kept a tight rein on screening: Only people who showed symptoms and had traveled to China or had a known exposure to another patient would be tested, and for the most part only by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That led to a low level of overall testing, and some epidemiologists suspected that the virus could be spreading undetected.
Those federal rules were relaxed over the weekend, and as testing expanded, new cases swiftly emerged in states including New York, Florida and Rhode Island — five cases on Saturday, 18 on Sunday, and 12 more on Monday. Some had no obvious source of infection. Officials expect more to follow.
“Community spread is going to be real,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York. “That is inevitable.”
At this writing, there have been a total of 100 cases in the United States, according to a database maintained by The New York Times. Six people have died. Here is a rundown of what we know about the American cases.
Globally, there have been just over 90,000 confirmed coronavirus cases so far; about 80,000 of them have been in China. About 3,000 people have died, a vast majority of them in China.
The Seattle region is an epicenter of illness and fear
A cluster of coronavirus cases in Kirkland, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, has thrown the region into turmoil. All six deaths in the U.S. so far have occurred in that area in the last few days.
The outbreak is centered on a nursing facility, Life Care Center of Kirkland, where eight residents and one employee have tested positive since Friday. Four residents have died, and many more are ill.
King County officials have been scrambling to cope with the outbreak. A quarter of Kirkland’s firefighters are in quarantine. A local college had to disinfect its campus because students had been to the nursing home. One school district canceled classes for Tuesday so that its staff could learn how to educate students remotely if the outbreak worsens.
A genetic analysis of two cases from Washington State found signs that the virus may have been circulating there unrecognized for as long as six weeks, suggesting that hundreds of people may be passing the virus along without knowing it.
Mike Baker, our Seattle-based correspondent covering the outbreak, said that wariness seemed to be everywhere on Monday. “I met with the state health officer, and she wouldn’t shake hands with me,” he said. “We bumped elbows instead.”
‘A catastrophe unfolding’ in Iran
An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader is among at least 66 people in the country who have died from the coronavirus, state media reported on Monday.
It was unclear whether the adviser, Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 71, had come into contact recently with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 80. The government has confirmed at least 1,501 infections, but public health experts expressed concern that the official numbers were unreliable.
At least seven other prominent Iranian officials and five members of Parliament have also contracted the virus, including one who recently sat near President Hassan Rouhani at a cabinet meeting.
“There is a real sense of panic and anxiety,” says Farnaz Fassihi, a Times reporter who has been covering Iran. “People are barricading themselves in their homes. The feeling of uncertainty is exacerbated by the public’s lack of trust in the information provided by the government. From what we hear, it’s a catastrophe unfolding.”
Other hot spots
China: The virus was first detected in December in Wuhan, a sprawling city of 11 million people, and officials responded with draconian measures that put at least 760 million people on varying degrees of lockdown. The aggressive measures appear to have slowed the disease’s spread there.
Italy: The number of infections jumped on Monday to 2,036, more than double the number on Friday, making the country the epicenter of the virus in Europe. The outbreak took root in the northern Lombardy region, and people traveling from Italy led to new cases in Nigeria, Mexico, Northern Ireland and Brazil.
South Korea: With over 4,300 cases, South Korea has the second largest outbreak in the world. More than half have been linked to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus, whose leader has been accused of thwarting the government’s containment efforts.
What you need to know
While the outbreak is a serious public health concern, a vast majority of people who contract the coronavirus do not become seriously ill, and only a small percentage require intensive medical care.
The coronavirus doesn’t live long on surfaces. Using a simple disinfectant is nearly guaranteed to break the delicate envelope that surrounds the tiny microorganism, rendering it harmless. Here’s more on how the virus does and doesn’t spread.
Reduce the risk of infection
It’s worth repeating, over and over: Wash your hands with clean running water and soap. Don’t miss the backs of your hands, thumbs, between your fingers or under your nails, and make sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds. And keep your hands away from your face.
Hand sanitizers that are at least 60 percent alcohol should be rubbed in for about 20 seconds. Do not rinse or wipe off the sanitizer before it dries.
Stay at least six feet away from obviously sick people, to avoid cough and sneeze droplets. If that’s not possible — or you can’t tell who’s sick — even a little distance is helpful.
Don’t touch your face. Respiratory viruses infect through the eyes, nose and mouth. But it’s admittedly a tough habit to break — one study found people touch their faces an average of 23 times an hour.
Feel a sneeze or cough coming? Direct it into the crook of your elbow, to avoid putting germs on your hands. You can also use the “Ebola handshake,” greeting others with an elbow bump.
What parents need to know
Coronavirus cases have been much rarer in children than in adults; it’s not clear why.
Use the same kinds of precautions as when the flu is going around: Keep healthy children away from sick ones, keep sick children home and make sure everyone keeps their hands clean. Read more guidance for parents here, including those with tweens and teenagers.
Be ready for disruptions
In the event of a severe pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggests keeping a two-week supply of nonperishable food on hand. This will minimize risky trips to the grocery store if the outbreak becomes more widespread.
Experts suggest stocking at least a 30-day supply of prescription medication. Consider doing the same for household items like laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
If you have older parents or relatives, or family members with any special health concerns, make sure you have a plan for caring for them if they get sick.
What else we’re reading
We want to hear from you
How are you preparing for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus in your community? Please tell us here. We may feature your submission in a coming newsletter.
Melina Delkic, Andrea Kannapell, Adam Pasick, Lara Takenaga and Tom Wright-Piersanti contributed to this newsletter.