NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The COVID-19 virus has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the organization is “deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity” of the virus.
"We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear," he said in Geneva on Wednesday. “We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action."
More than than 118,000 people have been sickened with the virus worldwide and nearly 4,300 have died.
The majority of the cases were reported in China, where the outbreak started, but the numbers were quickly growing in South Korea, Iran, and Italy, which imposed a nationwide lockdown in an effort to control the spread.
The virus has spread to 114, including the United States which has reported more than 1,000 cases and at least 31 deaths.
Ghebreyesus said in the weeks ahead, WHO expects the number of cases, deaths and affected countries to climb even higher.
He says countries can change the course of the pandemic if they "detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response."
The pandemic label sounds scary and brings to mind Hollywood thrillers, but former CDC director and New York City Health Commissioner, Tom Frieden, said it doesn't speak to the severity of the illness.
"A pandemic is a disease, which is spreading widely in multiple countries," Frieden told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell, adding that we're still trying to learn about the virus and how its risk compares to the flu. "We don't know if it's going to spread more widely than the flu. We don't know if it will make more people sick than the flu. We don't know if it will have a seasonality as the flu does in our environment."
The news came after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight Committee that the situation is going to get worse.
"We will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now," Fauci said.
Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate flu-like symptoms such as fever and cough, but it can cause more severe symptoms in older adults and people with existing health problems.
To prevent the spread of the virus, health officials urge the public to wash their hands thoroughly, use hand sanitizer, and cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.