Wuhan Coronavirus Update, February 20th, 2020: Coursera and Imperial College London Are Offering a Free, Eight-Week Course on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 to the General Public

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML

I decided it was time for a quick update on the SARS-CoV-2 virus outbreak. (The Wuhan coronavirus had an interim name of 2019-nCoV, but it is now known officially by scientific researchers as SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes is now referred to as COVID-19.)

In the past few days, there have been various worrying reports of human-to-human transmission of the virus in countries outside of China: Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and, for the first time, Iran. It would appear that despite our best containment efforts, the virus, which seems to be as easily transmissible as regular seasonal influenza, is slowly spreading worldwide. Scientists are studying these outbreaks outside China in an effort to better understand the virus.

Coursera is offering a free eight-week online course with Imperial College London, called Science Matters: Let’s Talk About COVID-19:

Welcome to this Science Matters on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID19) – a free course to learn about the science underpinning the outbreak response.

On January 30th, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus, now officially referred to as COVID19.

As the epidemic seems to spread to more and more countries, people around the world are wondering about the trajectory of the epidemic and whether they should be concerned. Media reports of the epidemic often focus on the more eye-catching events: governments evacuating their citizens from Hubei province, passengers on cruise ships being stopped from disembarking following a detection of a case, or images of supermarket supplies running out in areas perceived to be at high risk. On social media, other reports about the epidemic range from unsupported rumours to deliberate disinformation are increasing a sense of panic many individuals are experiencing. Robust, reliable analysis is vital at this stage not only as a way to give concerned members of the public a sense of perspective, but also to support governments and other stakeholders in planning their responses.

Researchers at the MRC Centre of Global Infectious Diseases Analysis (GIDA) and the Jameel Institute for Disease Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA) have been working hard on coming up with reliable estimates of the spread of the epidemic and its prospects, and are doing this in close collaboration with a number of global stakeholders, including the World Health Organisation (WHO).

You will hear directly from the experts conducting the analyses. You will be able learn about the current state of the epidemic, while also learn about the epidemiological and public-health principles and challenges that underpin these analyses. This will include understanding how the spread of the epidemic is modelled, how transmissibility of infections is estimated, what the challenges are in estimating the case fatality ratio, and also learning about the importance of community involvement in responding to the epidemic.

Today I finished the first two weeks of the online course, and I can recommend it very highly! You do not need to have a science background in order to understand the concepts, which are clearly explained.

Good Sources of Information on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

Here is my updated list of good, credible, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (formerly called 2019-nCoV and now officially called SARS-CoV-2; the disease the virus causes is now called COVID-19):

If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are three good places to check:

Stay informed, get prepared, and stay healthy!