Skip to content Skip to footer

As Coronavirus Cases Spike Worldwide, We Need Global Cooperation to Halt Spread

The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped 10,000, with over 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

As the worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped 10,000, with over 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, we speak with Stanford University’s global health expert Dr. Michele Barry, an infectious disease doctor. Italy has surpassed China in coronavirus deaths, and cases are rising in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, as the governor of California has ordered all 40 million residents to shelter in place.


AMY GOODMAN: The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped 10,000, with nearly a quarter of a million confirmed cases of COVID-19. Italy’s death toll has now surpassed China’s, where the outbreak was first reported, with over 3,400 deaths and more than 41,000 confirmed cases. In Iran, the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by coronavirus, the Health Ministry said the death toll has approached 1,300, with one person dying from it every 10 minutes and 50 becoming infected every hour. In Latin America, El Salvador, Nicaragua reported their first confirmed cases of coronavirus. South America has nearly a thousand confirmed infections, as Brazil, Chile and Peru all report hundreds of confirmed cases. Venezuela has announced a nationwide quarantine. In Africa, the number of confirmed cases has risen to 700, and the head of the World Health Organization had said Africa must, quote, “wake up to the coronavirus threat and prepare for the worst.”

In the United States, confirmed coronavirus cases have doubled over the past two days. New York has become the epicenter of the pandemic with more than 5,200 confirmed cases, the highest in the nation. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all 40 million residents to remain at home, to shelter in place, effective immediately.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM: The virus will impact about 56% of us. You do the math in the state of California, that’s a particularly large number. That number, in and of itself, shouldn’t be overly alarming. The vast majority of us, the overwhelming majority of us, won’t have symptoms, will be perfectly fine.

AMY GOODMAN: With over 22 million people facing infection in California over the next eight weeks, Governor Newsom estimated the state’s hospital capacity has 20,000 fewer beds than will be needed at the peak of the pandemic.

For more, we go to California, where we’re joined by Dr. Michele Barry, director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University, incoming chair for the Consortium of Universities for Global Health. Dr. Barry is also the past president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine. She’s joining us from her home, as California is under a shelter-in-place order.

Dr. Barry, thank you so much for joining us. Before we start on the global picture, if you could just simply explain — people say “coronavirus,” people say “COVID-19.” Explain where that term “COVID-19” came from, what it means, and then the class of coronaviruses, what that means, as well.

DR. MICHELE BARRY: Well, good morning, and thank you. The name “coronavirus” comes from a series of viruses that are found in bats. There are about 1,300 species of bats. And at any one time, there are about six to eight coronaviruses that are circulating in bats. So, there are many different species of bats. There are only seven species that have been known to infect man so far, four of which we all know very well. They cause the common cold, and there are three that are more deadly: SARS1, SARS2 and MERS. The term “corona” comes from the halo that is seen around the virus, with the spikes that come out of the coronavirus when you look at it under electron microscopy.

AMY GOODMAN: And “COVID-19” means?

DR. MICHELE BARRY: It’s a term that actually most people are — it’s a coronavirus disease, and it happened in the year ’19. Some people use the word “novel” in front of it, but it is synonymous for what is called SARS2, severe acute respiratory syndrome. And it’s the second such coronavirus that we’ve seen that causes severe acute respiratory disease.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about where this pandemic is hitting hardest. In our headlines, we just talked about Italy surpassing China. Why don’t you take us, really, on a tour of the world. How has this happened? Why is Italy the epicenter, Europe itself the epicenter, and also Iran so hard hit at this point? How did this all unfold?

DR. MICHELE BARRY: Well, it’s an interesting story. And I’m going to step back and take a larger picture about it, because I’m very interested in one health and climate and planetary health. And I know we’re all obsessed about this virus, but I think we have to think about what some of the activities that have happened in this Anthropocene, where men have impacted the planet. We have changed the ecology of how we live with animals, so that if you look at most of the emerging viruses and the emerging diseases that have happened over the last hundred years, they’ve been what we call zoonoses. And zoonoses are spillover from animals.

This particular coronavirus was noted first in a seafood market in Hunan, and it has to do with the fact that there probably — even though this is a bat coronavirus, we do not know whether there’s an amplifier animal in SARS1, which also started in a seafood market in an area in China. It’s the intimate living with humans and animals and spillover. In SARS 1, it was probably a civet cat that was being sold. For a while, SARS2, this particular virus, was thought to be an amplifier with a pangolin, a highly trafficked animal. We know now that that’s probably not true, and we don’t know exactly how it actually began in the seafood market.

But I want to bring us back to this idea that we need to be doing better surveillance in our animals and doing a better job with our planet. The large Nipah virus epidemic had a lot to do with deforestation and movement of bats closer to other animals, and another novel virus emerged. So I want to bring people back to some of the larger issues, when we think about these emerging viruses that happen in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And a connection to climate change, to the climate crisis?

DR. MICHELE BARRY: Yeah. Well, that is important. Climate change, deforestation and changing ecology is crucial for how we have animal and human ecology change. For instance, we saw the Zika outbreak happen several years ago in northeast Brazil. There’s been a lot of interesting discussion how deforestation may have played a role in that, and higher temperatures may have played a role in changing vectors, mosquito vectors in that role. Mosquitoes play no role in SARS, don’t worry. But it’s a very important question that I think, when this all quiets down — we’re sort of in the thick of this epidemic — I think we need to pay more attention to this concept of what I’m calling human and planetary health. We’re actually trying to build a new center for human and planetary health at Stanford. We’re working on a new postdoctoral fellowship for scientists to actually study this human ecology change.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we want you to take us from Italy to China to Iran. We want to look at Africa, which you’ve called a ticking time bomb, and Latin America, Asia. Dr. Michele Barry, director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University, she’s an infectious disease doctor. Stay with us.

​​Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.

Truthout is widely read among people with lower ­incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.

We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so — especially now, because we have just 2 days left to raise $33,000 in critical funds.

We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?