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In the U.S. at this time, the major risk presented by the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is not from the disease itself but from misinformation. Rumors, misinterpretations, and conspiracy theories are being transmitted at a rate far greater than that of the coronavirus itself.

While the situation is evolving rapidly and things can change quickly, our understanding of the illness has also grown in a remarkably short period of time.

In an NPR interview this week, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the term is used to suggest that the spread of a new infection is out of control and doing significant damage worldwide. We are not quite there yet.

COVID-19 transmission in China appears to have plateaued, and, while the virus has been detected in numerous other countries this week, several countries have also been successful in controlling the spread of COVID-19 within their borders. While the designation of a “pandemic” may step up the deployment of certain resources, it is at least as likely to promote panic and poor decision-making. The label won’t change anything about the way cases are tracked or people with the infection are treated.

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