Coronavirus Outbreak Intensifies: Q&A with RAND Experts

Cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, have now spread to at least 75 countries, infecting nearly 100,000 people across the globe—most in China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

With concerns about the disease rising, we asked a group of RAND researchers to answer a wide range of questions about the crisis:

Jennifer Bouey, the Tang Chair in China Policy Studies at RAND, is an epidemiologist whose research focuses on global health strategies and the social determinants of health.

Mahshid Abir is a senior physician policy researcher whose research focuses on hospital surge capacity and the effects of overcrowding at medical facilities.

Andrew Mulcahy is a senior policy researcher who studies prescription drug and health care payment policy.

Lori Uscher-Pines is a senior policy researcher whose work focuses on health care delivery via telemedicine, as well as emergency preparedness and response.

Elizabeth Petrun Sayers is a behavioral and social scientist who researches how traditional and new media shape risk perceptions and health behaviors.

What follows are edited highlights from their responses. (We’ll post the full audio of this conversation shortly.)

Put this outbreak into perspective. Has it peaked, or is it just getting started?

Jennifer Bouey: Well, COVID-19 is not just a China problem. In fact, after late February, we’ve seen that the number of coronavirus cases is growing faster outside China than inside China.

However, China still has 85 percent of the confirmed cases of coronavirus—that’s more than 80,000 people—and 88 percent of the deaths from coronavirus have happened in Wuhan and Hubei province. After a very dramatic quarantine procedure, we’re seeing case numbers in China start to go down.

But we’re still seeing an East Asia cluster forming, with Korea and Japan joining China. Iran is reporting more cases every day. And in Europe, Italy is another epicenter. In the United States, we’ll probably see more cases in the coming days.

When will the outbreak peak? That’s hard to predict, but I think it will come in waves. Globally, I don’t think it has peaked yet. I think we’ll see coronavirus spread to more countries in the second quarter of 2020 and maybe even into the third quarter for countries that don’t have the capacity to test for the disease.

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