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Spread of COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic – here's what that means

Posted at 11:40 AM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 11:40:09-04

When people think of pandemics, they might think of a severe disease. But it turns out, pandemics have nothing to do with severity – and everything to do with location.

By definition, a pandemic is the global spread of a disease that impacts a large number of people.

Think of pandemics as being at the top of a three-tier system of classifying infectious disease.

Outbreaks are at the base. They happen when cases of a disease suddenly surge past expectations. The flu is an example of an outbreak doctors expect to see every year.

On the second level – epidemics. They happen when the disease involved in the outbreak spreads quickly to a lot of people in a short period of time. They can be local or regional.

You’ll find pandemics on the third tier. They’re basically epidemics, but on a global level. That typically means more infections and more deaths.

Pandemics are often the result of a new virus or new strain of virus.

According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, it says new diseases spread fast because people don’t have immunity.

The APIC says pandemics do damage beyond health, saying they also often cause disruption, economic trouble, and general hardship.

So, what does this mean for COVID-19? There’s no specific infection or death rate that triggers a pandemic designation. And U.S. leaders recently said the word is largely up to interpretation. For that reason, different health organizations may declare COVID-19 a pandemic at different times.

Experts say declaring a pandemic can help get the world on board with finding – and funding – a solution.