WHAT'S HAPPENING? {updated on February 18th}

There's a virus going around. It is officially called Covid-19 (formerly known as 2019-nCoV and novel coronavirus because it’s got cone-shaped things on it and it’s new.) Here’s what it looks like:

Illustration of the 2019-nCOV ultrastructural morphology by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

It’s in the same family as the flu and the cold virus, and it has some similar symptoms. Doctors discovered this one in early January 2020 in Wuhan, and no matter where you are in the world, it is very unlikely that you will get it. Most of us will be absolutely fine, and even the vast majority of people who do get the virus will heal. Sadly, there have already more than 1,700 people who haven’t made it, and our thoughts are with their loved ones.

We like to anchor these numbers in context: the outbreak is concentrated in Hubei province, and early numbers showed that 80% of those who died are over 60 years old, and 75% had some form of underlying condition. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people die of the flu, and this winter in the United States alone, there have already been at least 26 *million* cases of influenza, leading to 250,000 hospitalizations, and 14,000 deaths.... The common flu is a much bigger global health issue because it is more widespread than this virus, and the people most at risk are those of us who are already immunocompromised in some way -- older folks, people who are HIV+, and generally at risk of infections because of other illness, cancers, or chronic conditions. So here are some handy tips to avoid all coronaviruses, including 2019-nCoV.

The best way to avoid getting sick (from any kind of virus that could cause the flu or cold, including this one) is to:
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water, thoroughly and often. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer works too, just make sure to also wash your hands when you can.
- Don’t touch your face or rub your eyes
- Sneeze and cough into your elbow (not your hands) or a tissue, then throw away the tissues immediately. Don’t sneeze or cough into your hands (and wash your hands if you did, accidentally!) to avoid later spreading the virus to the things or people you touch.
- Don’t stand too close to people who are coughing or sneezing, and definitely don't share drinks or dip your own chopsticks into communal dishes -- use a separate pair for serving.

It gets transmitted from person to person, when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes. If you do get a virus, it’s probably from being in close contact with someone who has one, and you may develop a bunch of these symptoms. You may also show no symptoms at all for the first few days and up to fourteen days afterwards. If you feel sick and have fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing, go to the doctor! Seek professional medical help, they will be able to test and see if you have this particular virus and will recommend the best treatment. If you feel sick with a regular cold, rest up, drink lots of liquid, and keep away from others as best you can. Don’t go to work or take public transit, even if you feel sort of OK, you might risk infecting someone who has an already weakened immune system, so stay in for all of our sakes. And keep washing those hands <3

There are lots of different kinds of facemasks, some helpful and some not.
A disposable surgical mask stops viruses from going from the mask wearer to the outside world (and to make sure surgeons don’t cough on the patients they are operating on). It doesn’t stop you from catching something, but if you might be contagious, it’s good (and polite) to wear one if you’re out in public. They are also disposable and meant to only be worn once, so don't reuse them!

  • Wearing gloves or mittens outside are a better bet, since again, it's those dirty hands that are a bigger problem. And what do we do with our hands? Yep, that's right. We wash 'em.

    Viruses aren’t xenophobic or racists. Be like viruses!
    Like we said, you’re likely to get the virus from being in close contact with someone who was in close contact with someone who had it. There is nothing about a person’s appearance that can tell you if they have recently been in contact with someone who is sick. Wuhan, where this novel coronavirus was first discovered, is home to over 11 million people, and many thousands more pass through there who have no roots in the city. Discriminating against people from Hubei province doesn't do anything to stop the outbreak since so many people traveled through there on their way to other places in mainland China during the lunar new year. Wuhan is one of the country's four main major transit hubs, which is one of the reasons the outbreak spread around the country in January along rail lines and connecting flights.

  • Also, it’s not the food anyone ate. Many viruses that cause illness are zoonotic, which means they originally come from animals (remember Mad Cow disease? or Rabies?) but the exact source of this particular coronavirus is still unknown. It's thought that both this novel coronavirus and SARS originated in bats, then maybe passed on to another animal and then eventually to us human animals. The first cases of the outbreak were people who worked in a fresh food market, and handling raw meat and fish always has its risks, but right now, the virus passes from human to human.

  • It is the year of the rat though, and the fact that all of this broke out over the lunar new year makes things much more complicated, since so many people are traveling for the holiday.

    After the news broke, the government in China didn’t handle things well at first. After initially covering up and reprimanding the doctors who tried to sound the alarm within the medical professional community in December, the virus has spread much more widely than if the early reported had been acted on quickly. Now, in order to keep the virus from spreading, lots of people are stuck. Entire megacities and small villages alike are cordoned off for a few weeks, and the holiday was extended until February 8th at least. Labor laws state that the extended leave should also paid, so don’t let bosses take advantage of a crisis!

  • Different cities and industries are deciding when they deem it safe for people to go back to work, many people are encouraged to work from home if possible. Schools are hoping to be back in session by March, and many are switching to remote online learning plans in the mean time.

    Most public events are cancelled, most land and sea borders are shut, and most international airlines have stopped flying. This means people are staying put and staying indoors, and everyone is doing the most to stop the disease from spreading. The doctors are working day and night to take care of those who have the virus, and the new hospital in Wuhan is up and running. Scientists are figuring out the best treatment plans, and are working hard on developing a vaccine.

    Until then, this a still going to big problem for a lot of people.

    If you're in China, staying put is the best plan at this point. Keep indoors, and check in on your loved ones digitally. Keep in touch with folks since isolation is harsh on the mind! Read books, watch movies, call your friends, grow your WeChat sticker collection, draw, sing, make the best of it. We've complied a whole long list of online exhibitions, radio streams, and video series, and refreshed our VPN recommendations.

  • If you are able to and do decide to leave, be careful in transit (wash those hands!) and know that you’ll likely be quarantined for 14 days when you land elsewhere to make sure you’re not spreading the virus yourself.


    If you had plans to go to mainland China, chances are your travel plans have been cancelled. If not, be careful. If you’re going to a part of the country that hasn’t been too severely affected, be cautious but there is no need to stop an entire trip. Try to stay in one place -- now is not the best time to be traveling around the country, you don’t want to be a super-spreader.


    This will likely pass in the next few weeks as people take precautions to stop spreading the virus, and those who have it heal. The lasting effects of the fear are going to take longer to pass, and we’re most scared of deeper discrimination against already-marginalized folks who have absolutely nothing to do with this. This is already creating ripple effects on the economy as well, disrupting workers livelihoods as supply chains shift. Things are already getting harder for artists too -- film festivals and art fairs and performance venues are all cancelling or postponing events. Others are finding new ways to broadcast online, like our friends at the Shanghai Community Radio who invited their guest DJs to stream from home instead of coming into the studio. Modern Sky is putting on a 'stay at home' music festival through Bilibili too, and now's a good time to practice the commenters' rigorous exam if you want to add your own bullets to the mix.

  • For those in Hubei Province, it's very scary. Hospitals are overwhelmed, medical staff are overworked and exhausted, not to mention in the most dangerous front line roles. Follow Subtropical Asia's Wuhan Diaries,  photographer Wú Guóyǒng 吴国勇's "One Thousand Families" and other direct sources (we list a lot below) to read up on how people in Wuhan and the surrounding areas are coping.

  • For those elsewhere in China, life goes on strangely, with movements severely limited. This means staying inside in apartment complexes, with permission to leave every day or two to buy groceries. Temperatures are checked on the way in and out. It's not fun, but people are keeping busy, calling the shut-in time as a good occasion for 厚积薄发 -- time read and think.

    And for those who have recently been to China, it means staying put for 14 days either in government-mandated quarantine or self-imposed isolation to make sure to not spread anything further.

    Keep in touch with your friends, being in isolation is one of the worst parts of all of this. Stay calm, and for the 10th time: wash your hands. Share reliable information, and an occasional meme to keep spirits high. Do your part by spreading accurate advice, and support businesses run by people of Asian descent who are probably suffering unfairly from ignorant fear-mongering. Thank the doctors, nurses, caretakers, volunteers, delivery folks, journalists, and everyone helping out during these difficult times.

  • Remember Dr. Li Wenliang, who was one of the original eight whistleblowers who was arrested for trying to spread the truth. He died of the virus on February 7th, and millions grieved and commemorated his life and dedication to caring. There are vigils worldwide, see below for details.

/// If you're in NYC and want to help out directly, we're partnering with Special Special & 3standardstoppage to collect and send supplied to overwhelmed hospitals in China at our Cloud Dumpling Party on Sunday February 23rd! ///

Whenever we get more than ten people asking us the same question, we start writing a resource guide to share information and solutions as widely as possible. This guide is compiled by Kira Simon-Kennedy on February 4th 2020. We will update it when there is more news! We’re sending courage to all those affected, especially the medical staff and including everyone who is stuck, quarantined, worried about loved ones and affected by the many expanding ripples of this ongoing outbreak.