What can history teach us about today's unknowns?

Let's understand what a pandemic is

A pandemic is an outbreak of?infectious disease that occurs over a wide geographical area and that is of high prevalence. A pandemic generally affects a significant proportion of the world’s population, usually over the course of several months. Throughout history, humanity has survived several pandemics. While this global health crisis continues to evolve, it can be useful to look to the past to help us understand our possible future.

Key contributors of the time

Throughout history, physicians, scientists, and researchers have been among the many who paved the road for medical scientific breakthroughs and discoveries. Here is a small sample of the key contributors of the time.

German Hungarian physician who discovered the cause of puerperal (childbed) fever and introduced antisepsis into medical practice

American microbiologist and epidemiologist who isolated the viruses responsible for influenza?A (1934) and?influenza B (1940) and developed a polyvalent vaccine?effective against both strains?

American physician and medical researcher who developed the first safe and effective vaccine for polio

Understanding COVID-19 and coronavirus

In humans, a species known as?SARS?coronavirus (or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus) causes a highly contagious?respiratory disease?that is characterized by symptoms of?fever,?cough, and muscle ache, often with progressive difficulty in breathing. The virus emerged in humans in 2002; it likely jumped to humans from an animal reservoir, believed to be horseshoe?bats.

Kara Rogers, Britannica's Senior Editor of Biomedical Sciences, answers common questions about COVID-19

How much of the population will the Coronavirus pandemic actually affect?

While it is difficult to estimate just how many people will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that a significant proportion of the world’s population will be infected in the coming months.?Read more?

Who can declare a pandemic, and what criteria is required for it be called a pandemic?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for declaring a pandemic. WHO monitors disease activity on a global scale through a network of surveillance centers located in countries worldwide. Read more

At the moment, there is no cure for infection with the coronavirus behind the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. However, different types of drugs are being tested in human patients for their ability to fight off infection or to reduce the severity of disease. Read more?

Let’s talk about what “social distancing” is, because it encompasses a wide range of activities. Social distancing is a term used to describe the increase of physical space between one person and another in order to inhibit the spread of a communicable illness (such as?COVID-19).? Read more

The national conversation

From national emergencies to government aid and statewide curfews, COVID-19 has changed the national conversation as we know it. It has provoked a global discussion and questions about our healthcare systems, how we diagnose, how we work, how we educate, and so much more.??

What is martial law, and how does it work?

When was the last time a national emergency was called?

What were some of the world's most devastating financial crises?

How to talk to young children about the coronavirus?

When was the last time schools were closed in the U.S. for a health crisis?

What are emergency powers, and when did they emerge?

COVID-19 emergency resources now available to every school

?Over the past two months, Britannica has been working with our partner schools across the world who are grappling with COVID-19 school closures and student absences and making swift plans to keep their communities safe. As schools across the United States implement and prepare for school closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities, we want to ensure that you are aware of the free emergency support and virtual-learning classroom resources Britannica has made available to every school.?