WHAT'S HAPPENING? {first published February 4th, last updated on March 19th 2020}

There's a virus going around. It's causing a pandemic and it is very serious. It is officially called SARS CoV-2, and the disease it causes is named Covid-19. It's was also referred to as the novel coronavirus because it’s got cone-shaped things on it and it’s newly discovered. 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 November 2019 in Wuhan, and no matter where you are in the world, and as we've entered a pandemic stage, it is likely that you might get it. Statistically, most of us will survive: the vast majority of people who do get the virus will heal. Sadly, there have already more than 7,000 people who haven’t made it, and our thoughts are with their loved ones.

  • Originally, this outbreak has been concentrated in Wuhan and Hubei province, slow government responses locally in China failed to contain the outbreak in November and December 2019, and while strict lockdowns were imposed, the virus has spread to many countries. Eleven other countries report more than 1,000 cases - South Korea, Iran, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, many other European countries and the US - and the number of cases will continue to climb quickly as different local and national governments are taking measures at different times. As the coronavirus spread, you can keep up with the latest reports in your area through the World Health Organization's daily situation reports. The key goal now that the outbreak has grown into a pandemic is for each area to "flatten the curve" so as to not overwhelm hospitals and medical teams.

  • While the common flu is still a more widespread global health issue than this virus, this virus is *not* the normal flu and it's more dangerous and lethal especially to the people most at risk of all viruses: 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. To anchor these numbers in context: it's estimated that there might be between 2 million to 21 million people infected in the United States alone, and while there are an even higher number of flu cases (34 *million* cases so far this year, leading to 350,000 hospitalizations, and 20,000 deaths), the mortality rate is much higher for this virus. And while vast majority of those who have died are over 50 years old, and many had some form of underlying condition, but just because the odds might be lower for you, it's important that we work together to take care to slow the spread as much as possible, for everyone's sake.

  • 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.
  • ---> If you are in a part of the world that has more that 100 known cases, it's a good idea to limit travel and avoid indoor gatherings of more than 10 people, if you can. Stay inside as much as possible! Each city and county is reacting differently, and while not all events are cancelled, it's likely that they will be, or should be. Don't wait for others to cancel or take it as a sign that things are OK if some events or work shifts don't get cancelled, especially if you or anyone close to you have existing health conditions.
  • ---> If you're in a place with few or no cases yet, know that cases will probably start popping up soon as people continue to move around the world.
  • - If you're in a crowded space, like the subway at rush hour, do your best to not touch any (or too many) surfaces.
  • - If you have some say over your work environment, do what you can to make sure anyone who doesn't feel well knows it's OK to stay home. Hopefully one day soon, unlimited paid sick leave will be a normal thing, until then, see if your workplace can make an exception and at least let more people work from home if possible during the worst of the flu season.

    This virus 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, which is what makes tracking case spread so complicated. People might feel fine for two weeks and still be passing the virus to others, so if there are official cases in your area, that means the virus has been kicking around for weeks. This is why 14 days of self-quarantine are recommended for anyone who might have come in contact with anyone who has the virus. 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!

  • If the number of cases is rising around you, like it has been for us on the China Residencies team in China, the US, and Germany, please stay take care not to spread it around further. Even if you feel fine and think it's not that big a deal, trust the experts: it is a big deal! Especially for people who really need to be able to get care right now, which includes anyone who was already sick or gets into an accident and also needs access to the emergency rooms.

  • It's not just for our sake, but for everyone's sake. And keep washing those hands <3

  • MASKS?
    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!

Right now, lots of people are trying to get their hands on the right kinds of masks. If you're not someone who really needs one, please don't buy up the stock! It's most important to leave the supplies available to medical staff and people with existing health conditions.

  • Wearing gloves is also a good precaution, since again, it's those dirty hands that also part of the problem. And what do we do with our hands? Yep, that's right. We wash 'em. And wash those gloves too.

    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 like the adorable, endangered pangolin 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 were 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 November, 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. Labor laws state that the extended leave should also paid, so don’t let bosses take advantage of a crisis!

  • Different cities and industries across China are deciding when and if 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 April, and many are switching to remote online learning plans in the mean time. Most public events are still cancelled, many travel restrictions are in effect at land and sea borders, and most airlines have stopped or greatly reduced flights between affected areas. This means people are staying put and staying indoors, and everyone is doing the most to stop the disease from spreading. This means many, many of our friends and relatives haven't really left their houses for more than fifty days... While many parts of China are now letting people circulate again in limited areas where there haven't been new cases, but as of Friday, March 13th, Wuhan is on its 52nd day of lockdown.

  • Now, hundreds of other countries are about to go through the same wave of crises, and how each government responds will impact how quickly we all recover. Expect lockdown measures to also be put into place elsewhere, like Italy has done, to slow the spread, and if where you are isn't affected yet, know that this virus really doesn't care about borders and will likely be coming to your part of the world at some point in 2020 if it hasn't already.

  • Doctors, nurses, and hospital staff are working day and night to take care of those who have the virus. Scientists are figuring out the best treatment plans, and are working hard on developing a vaccine, hopefully in time for next year.

    As new infections slow, the number of cases has started to peak in mainland China, it's important for everyone to learn from the places that took the proper precautions to contain the virus quickly, like in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The number of infections will peak eventually, but as the curve graph shows, there are many things we can do collectively to bend the cure and slow down the rate of infections.

  • Until all governments and communities worldwide take this seriously, this a still going to big problem for a lot of people as it keeps spreading.

    If you're in China or another heavily affected place, staying put is the best plan at this point. Keep indoors, and check in on your loved ones digitally. Do you best to make sure the most vulnerable of folks you know -- your neighbors, colleagues, etc -- have access to groceries and any medication they might need. 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. Even if it's not mandated, you should impose a quarantine on yourself just in case.

  • In countries that don't have strict lockdown measures or clear guidelines, here's the levels of precaution to take:
  • - Social distancing means avoiding indoor gatherings and contained public spaces (offices, public transit.) If there's more than 25 people, don't risk it, but you can still walk around, go to get food and groceries, ride your bike, go sit in a park... just make sure you wash your hands after you touch anything that other people touch, and stand two meter (~six feet) away from others
  • - Self-isolation means staying away from others when you might be sick, so if you have symptoms of any virus, stay home and don't touch or stand too close to even the other people in your household, to avoid getting others sick
  • - Quarantine is staying in even if you're not sick at all but *might* be, because you came in contact with someone who was sick, or came from a place where a lot of people were sick


    If you had plans to go to mainland China or another affected area, chances are your travel plans have been cancelled. If not, be very careful. If you’re going to a part of the country that hasn’t been too severely affected, be cautious. 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. Many cities, neighborhoods, and villages are cordoned off and not particularly keen on welcoming outsiders, even with a temperature check, so getting around is going to be extremely difficult.

  • If somewhere has had more than a few cases and even a single death, there are likely up to a thousand other cases in the region.


    Since we first started writing this guide, we've hoped that will likely pass in the next few weeks as people take precautions to stop spreading the virus, and those who have it heal. It's now going on for more than three months, and while we want to remain optimistic, a true pandemic like this one might is going to take a very long time to resolve. The most worrisome is that the lasting effects of the fear are going to take even longer to pass. We’re most scared of deeper discrimination against already-marginalized folks who have absolutely nothing to do with this, especially people of Asian descent worldwide. The outbreak is already creating ripple effects on the economy as well, disrupting workers livelihoods as supply chains shift. It's a terrible time for small businesses that don't have months of cash on hand, like many local businesses in Chinatowns all around the world.

  • And while we welcome a slowdown on capitalism and reduced emissions, sudden shifts in places without strong universal social safety nets always cause harm. In China, this means scores of migrant workers from the rural countryside, who count on being able to make a living in now-restricted bigger cities, are facing extremely uncertain futures. In the US, it means disaster for those without access to good healthcare. And it also looks like we're heading into another financial recession.

  • Things are already getting harder for artists too -- film festivals and art fairs and performance venues are all cancelling or postponing events. When this epidemic was concentrated in China, we loved sharing all the creative coping mechanisms. Artists are found new ways to practice, learn, and share. Many are broadcasting online, like our friends at the Shanghai Community Radio who invited their guest DJs to stream from home instead of coming into the studio. We hosted a cloud party and started cloud conversations to keep up with the artists and residencies we work with in China, and while we postponed all our 2020 projects and research trips back in February, we're now working to publish resources like this and care for our creative community worldwide as best we can. We are setting up a Crystal emergency fund in place of this year's open call, and will be sharing a big resource of all the ways to help those impacted by this pandemic.

  • For those in Wuhan, Iran, and Italy, it was very scary. In Wuhan, hospitals got overwhelmed quickly, 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.

  • At this point, there are horrendous first-hand accounts in so many places that we know to expect the worst. We can't share all the world's information, and we wrote this guide focused on China first, but please do your best to stay informed about your own community, and places that don't get written about as much in Euro-centric newsrooms!

  • 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. Stay ahead of the propaganda, as politicians and agitators will try to rewrite history in real time, and remember, we're all in this together.

    Keep in touch with your friends virtually, it's not fun being in isolation but it's what we have to do if we can. Be glad we're in the age of phones and video chats! 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.

Help out in your own community and advocate for measure to help those who need it most, linked in the resources below:

China-specific links:

and the memes, always the memes:

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.