What percent of the world’s population has caught COVID-19?

percentage of people who have covid-19
Photo via Davide Gabino/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
  • About 10% of the world’s population has been infected
  • The fall and winter of 2020 are going to produce more cases and deaths
  • There are nearly 45 million global cases of COVID-19

Since the coronavirus pandemic began seven months ago, about 44.5 million cases have been recorded globally and more than 1.1 million lives have been lost. The U.S. alone has seen more than 8.85 million cases and more than 225,000 deaths. The World Health Organization is now estimating that the percentage of people who have had COVID-19 around the globe is about 10%.

This leaves the vast majority of the world’s population vulnerable. The percentage of people who have contracted the coronavirus is still minor compared to the number of people yet to suffer the illness. The WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, noted that the number of infections vary based on several factors

“It varies depending on country, it varies from urban to rural, it varies depending on groups,” he said. “But what it does mean is that the vast majority of the world remains at risk.” Ryan also noted that the world is headed into a “difficult period.”

Experts have long predicted that the virus would worsen in the winter. In the early months of the pandemic, some predicted that the virus would improve in warm weather. The rate of infection remained steady throughout most of the summer, even as experts—including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert—warned that without a notable decrease, we were headed for a challenging fall and winter. That’s what began happening in Western Europe, particularly in France and Italy, in mid-October. At that point, people were wondering if the U.S. had already entered a third wave of the coronavirus.

Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, warned the Today show in April that the fall and winter of 2020 “are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health.” Most viruses, including common influenza, peak in the winter months. 

There are a few factors that contribute to this. The air is commonly drier during the winter, and that allows particles to travel more efficiently through the air. As most know by now, COVID-19 is often spread through respiratory droplets. Outdoor seating has also been a big element in keeping the percentage of people who are exposed to COVID-19 lower. Colder weather is sure to present a hurdle in these efforts, as people flee indoors from the winter chill. 

Winter also wears on our body’s natural defenses, according to the Atlantic. This compounds with seasonal depression, which is expected to surge in 2020 as well. With social distancing headed into its seventh month, many people are beginning to feel the wear. As the holidays inch closer, these feelings of isolation will only get worse. 

Despite hints from President Trump to the contrary, it is unlikely that a coronavirus vaccine will emerge before winter hits. Even if it does, however, it will likely not be widely available until mid-2021, at the earliest. That means that we are headed into what could be the worst months of the virus with no vaccine in clear sight.

The only way to combat a surge in numbers is to continue doing as the world’s top experts recommend: Wear a mask, wash your hands, and continue social distancing efforts. And when the holidays come, do your best to avoid large crowds.

Sources: AP, Johns Hopkins, Reuters, The Atlantic

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