COVID-19 Timeline: February 2020

September 24, 2021

At we have kept up with the spread of COVID-19 and the related bioethical questions that this pandemic brings. The posts that follow highlights news from February 2020 and were originally posted at These posts focus on the bioethical issues that medical professionals, bioethicists, public health officials, and scientists grappled with as SARS-CoV-2 swept the globe.

February 5: “In Quarantined Wuhan, Hospital Beds for Coronavirus Patients Are Scarce” by Emily Feng and Amy Cheng, NPR

Scientists and public health authorities in China and around the world have mobilized quickly to identify and treat a global outbreak of this new strain of the coronavirus. But in Wuhan, which has fully a third of the more than 24,000 confirmed cases of the illness as of Wednesday, overwhelmed hospitals are struggling to screen all potential cases and to treat the ever-growing number of patients. NPR spoke to more than a dozen families with confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus. They recounted days of waiting in line to be screened with little more than an intravenous drip as treatment.

February 5: “Health Officials Err on Side of Caution to Contain Viral Outbreak” by Brianna Abbott, The Wall Street Journal

Amid the fast-moving coronavirus outbreak emanating from China, companies, governments and schools are developing policies on the fly to try to halt the spread, creating a live global public-health experiment in containment. In the U.S., some businesses and universities have told people who had recently returned from the epicenter of the outbreak or from mainland China to stay home for as long as two weeks after returning. The U.S. government also said on Friday that it would deny entry to foreign citizens who had traveled to China within the past 14 days and imposed a maximum two-week quarantine on Americans returning from Hubei province where the outbreak started.

February 7: “Questions Swirl After China Attempts to Censor News of Whistleblowing Doctor’s Death” by Tripti Lahiri and Tony Lin, Quartz

Li Wenliang, the doctor who initially warned the medical community about a cluster of severe pneumonia cases in December and was reprimanded by Wuhan authorities for that warning, has himself died of the coronavirus. His death was initially reported by China’s state-run paper Global Times, then retracted, sowing confusion.

February 10: “China Locked Down Millions in Coronavirus-Hit Hubei. Has It Done More Harm Than Good?” by Jane Cai, South China Morning Post

Nicholas Evans, a medical ethics expert at University of Massachusetts Lowell, said it was a “complete overreaction” to quarantine millions of people. “A bigger concern is that because the disease largely does not transmit itself before symptoms show, then isolation of the patient is usually a sufficient response, combined with tracking a patient’s close contacts,” Evans said. “So in addition to being disproportionate, and possibly ineffective, it is almost certainly too restrictive compared to other effective measures.”

February 11: “Mission Impossible? WHO Director Fights to Prevent a Pandemic without Offending China” by Kai Kupferschmidt, Science

Yet the crisis has put Tedros “in a near-impossible situation,” says Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. If Tedros wants WHO to stay informed about what’s happening in China and influence how the country handles the epidemic, he cannot afford to antagonize the notoriously touchy Chinese government—even though it is clear the country has been less than fully transparent about the outbreak’s early stages, and perhaps still is. Critics say that stance puts WHO’s moral authority at risk. “WHO has never faced such a fast-moving epidemic in a country that is quite that powerful and, in many ways, closed,” Gostin says.

February 11: “Disease Caused by Novel Coronavirus Officially Has a Name: Covid-19” by Andrew Joseph, STAT News

The disease caused by the novel coronavirus has a name: Covid-19. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, announced the name Tuesday, giving a specific identifier to a disease that has been confirmed in more than 42,000 people and caused more than 1,000 deaths in China. There have been fewer than 400 cases in 24 other countries, with one death.

February 12: “The Coronavirus Cruise Ship Quarantine Is a Scary Public Health Experiment” by Julia Belluz, Vox

The cruise ship quarantine is not just a human rights or justice issue, though; it’s a public health problem, too. In this case, people who aren’t yet sick and who may not have been exposed to the new coronavirus are being held together in close proximity with people who may already have the disease. Layer on top of that the fact that we don’t yet know exactly how this virus spreads; all we know is that respiratory viruses like it — MERS and SARS — spread mainly through exposure to droplets, from coughing or sneezing.

February 12: “U.S. Health Officials Await Invite to Assist with Coronavirus in China” by Julie Steenhuysen , Reuters

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday it had not yet been invited to send experts to China to assist with the investigation of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 1,100 people. The United States has been waiting for approval to send its experts as part of a World Health Organization (WHO) team, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.

February 13: “Understanding Pandemics: What They Mean, Don’t Mean, and What Comes Next with the Coronavirus” by Helen Branswell, STAT News

But what is a pandemic? And if efforts like the quarantining of returning travelers cannot stop spread of the virus, what will? We’re peering into the unknown here, but given the ease with which this coronavirus seems to transmit from person to person, the world is likely to see much broader international spread of the virus, now known as SARS-CoV-2. (The disease the virus causes has been named Covid-19.) Here’s what you need to know about pandemics.

February 14: “China Virus Death Toll Nears 1,400, Six Health Workers Among Victims” by Laurent Thomet and Eva Xiao, Medical Xpress

The death toll from China’s virus epidemic neared 1,400 on Friday with six medical workers among the victims, underscoring the country’s struggle to contain a deepening health crisis. Nearly 64,000 people are now recorded as having fallen ill from the virus in China, with officials revealing that 1,716 health workers had been infected as of Tuesday.

February 14: “Chinese Bioethicists: Silencing Doctor Impeded Early Control of Coronavirus” by Ruipeng Lei and Renzong Qiu, Hastings Center

The death of Dr Li Wenliang from COVID-19 is heartbreaking for our country and people. Dr. Li was reprimanded for messages he posted in a chat group warning fellow doctors about a mysterious infection. His death on February 7 sparked anguish and anger because it underscored gaps and deficiencies in our country’s health care system and system of governance. As bioethicists, we think that it is a good time for our country to reflect on those deficiencies and consider reforms.

February 14: “Dying a Desperate Death: A Wuhan Family’s Coronavirus Ordeal” by Yawen Chen and Tony Munroe, Reuters

There were no doctors, nurses or medical equipment at the Wuhan hotel converted into a temporary quarantine facility for suspected coronavirus patients when brothers Wang Xiangkai and Wang Xiangyou arrived two weeks ago. The next day, Xiangkai, 61, woke to find that Xiangyou, 62, had died. The Wangs are among tens of thousands of families devastated by the coronavirus in Wuhan, where the medical system has been overwhelmed by the outbreak, despite massive reinforcements and two speedily built new hospitals.

February 17: “More Than 80 Clinical Trials Launch to Test Coronavirus Treatments” by Amy Maxmen, Nature

China has more than 80 running or pending clinical trials on potential treatments for COVID-19, the illness caused by a coronavirus that has thus far killed nearly 1,400 people and infected more than 48,000 across China. New pharmaceutical drugs are listed beside thousand-year-old traditional therapies in a public registry of China’s clinical trials, which is growing every day. There is no known cure, and doctors are eager to help those with the disease — but scientists caution that only carefully conducted trials will determine which measures work.

February 18: “Coronavirus: Largest Study Suggests Elderly and Sick Are Most at Risk” by BBC

Health officials in China have published the first details of more than 44,000 cases of Covid-19, in the biggest study since the outbreak began. Data from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) finds that more than 80% of the cases have been mild, with the sick and elderly most at risk. The research also points to the high risk to medical staff.

February 19: “An Expert Booted Off the Diamond Princess Says Japan’s Coronavirus Control Is ‘Completely Chaotic’” by Mary Hui, Quartz

As the number of people infected on the vessel steadily crept up, experts began questioning Japan’s strategy of continuing to enforce the quarantine on thousands of people in an enclosed space. While passengers were confined to their cabins, crew members shared living and working spaces and had minimal protective gear when interacting with passengers. As of yesterday, 542 people have been confirmed infected with coronavirus, or roughly 15% of everyone onboard.

February 20: “Experts Say Confusion Over Coronavirus Case Count in China Is Muddying Picture of Spread” by Helen Branswell, STAT News

Infectious diseases experts are losing confidence in the accuracy of China’s count of cases of the novel coronavirus, pointing toward health officials’ shifting definition of cases over time. Confusion over how China is counting cases of infections is making it harder to know how coronavirus is spreading, even as China is officially reporting that the numbers of new cases reported in recent days have fallen sharply. Many suspect the decline may be attributed in part to shifting case definitions.

February 20: “Scientists Question China’s Decision Not to Report Symptom-Free Coronavirus Cases” by David Cyranoski, Scientific American

Researchers are concerned that China’s official reports on the number of coronavirus infections have not been including people who have tested positive for the virus but who have no symptoms. They fear the practice is masking the epidemic’s true scale. But public health experts say China is right to prioritize tracking sick patients who are spreading the disease.

February 21: “The Coronavirus Is Picking Up Steam Outside China, Narrowing Chances of Eliminating It” by Helen Branswell, STAT News

There are worrying signs the coronavirus outbreak is entering a new phase, with spread outside of China — until recently at low levels — beginning to rapidly pick up steam. Experts point to the sharp rise of the number of cases in South Korea, which went from 30 cases on Monday to 204 by Friday, and to Italy, which had no cases at the start of Friday and 16 at the end of it. Five of the infected people in Italy are health workers.

February 24: “WHO Tells Countries to Prepare for Coronavirus Pandemic, But Insists It’s Too Soon to Make That Call” by Helen Branswell, STAT News

The World Health Organization said the coronavirus outbreak that has swept from China to a number of countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe is not yet a pandemic, but it urged countries to prepare for its arrival on the assumption that a declaration may come. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries should be working to protect health workers, engaging groups that are at highest risk — for instance, the elderly — and striving to contain spread of the virus to the highest degree possible to slow its arrival in countries that don’t have the means to respond to its threat.

February 24: “The Coronavirus Is Picking Up Steam Outside China, Narrowing Chances of Eliminating It” by Helen Branswell, STAT News

There are worrying signs the coronavirus outbreak is entering a new phase, with spread outside of China — until recently at low levels — beginning to rapidly pick up steam. Experts point to the sharp rise of the number of cases in South Korea, which went from 30 on Monday to 204 by Friday, and in Italy, which had no cases at the start of Friday and 16 at the end of it. Five of the infected people in Italy are health workers.

February 25: “CDC Expects ‘Community Spread’ of Coronavirus as Top Official Warns Disruptions Could Be ‘Severe’” by Megan Thielking and Helen Branswell, STAT News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday warned that it expects the novel coronavirus that has sparked outbreaks around the world to begin spreading at a community level in the United States, as a top official said that disruptions to daily life could be “severe.” “As we’ve seen from recent countries with community spread, when it has hit those countries, it has moved quite rapidly. We want to make sure the American public is prepared,” Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.

February 25: “NIH Clinical Trial of Remdesivir to Treat COVID-19 Begins” by NIH

A randomized, controlled clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the investigational antiviral remdesivir in hospitalized adults diagnosed with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has begun at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha. The trial regulatory sponsor is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. This is the first clinical trial in the United States to evaluate an experimental treatment for COVID-19, the respiratory disease first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

February 25: “What Happens If You’re Critically Ill in China—But Not with Coronavirus” by Emily Feng and Amy Cheng, NPR

An all-out effort to stop the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 is underway in Wuhan. New treatment centers have been built in the past two weeks to accommodate coronavirus patients. Tens of thousands of doctors around China have been diverted to Hubei province, whose capital is Wuhan, where there’s a critical need for both medical staff and supplies to address the disease. But those struggling with other life-threatening health issues say medical care is nearly impossible to come by. Yu had been receiving care in a Wuhan hospital after being diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2014. On Jan. 25, two days after the city entered lockdown, the hospital sent him home. His niece said they explained that his bed was needed to treat COVID-19 patients.

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