The CDC and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Contributor: Lindsey Congalosi. Lesson ID: 13302

What is a coronavirus? How do massive disease outbreaks happen? Who is the CDC, and how are they keeping you safe? Put on that face mask and learn the facts here!


Health and Wellness, Life Science

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


The coronavirus pandemic is all over the news in early 2020.

  • What is the coronoavirus?
  • What is a pandemic?
  • How can you keep yourself healthy, and what should you do if you get sick?

Read on to learn about the coronavirus as well as other worldwide pandemics, and how to keep yourself from being infected.

You may have heard of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also called the CDC.

In short, the CDC is the part of the United States government tasked with keeping Americans healthy and safe from sickness. The CDC headquarters are located in Atlanta, Georgia, but the CDC monitors health all around the United States.

The CDC researches and monitors all kinds of things related to our health. If you have ever heard a warning about certain foods causing food poisoning, it likely came from the CDC.

In late 2018, a large recall was issued for romaine lettuce. The public was told not to eat or buy any romaine lettuce. The reason? E.coli bacterium. People were getting sick from the lettuce.

romaine lettuce and E.coli

When health issues like this one occur, the CDC issues press releases to keep the public informed. They monitor new cases and the progress of old cases. They also try to determine the cause of the issue.

In this case, water that had been contaminated with fecal waste (poop) had been used to water the romaine plants.

irrigation system watering a field

In January 2020, the CDC found itself investigating another health issue caused by the virus COVID-19. This stands for COrona VIrus Disease from 2019. It is also called SARS-CoV-2.

This virus has been nicknamed coronavirus, but coronaviruses are actually a family of viruses. COVID-19 is just one of several coronaviruses. COVID-19 is also a type of SARS, but it is a different virus than the one responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003.

Why is COVID-19 a type of SARS?

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Severe, in this case, means that the medical event is intense; not that it's a serious case.

Acute means that it comes on rapidly, not gradually.

Respiratory refers to the fact that the illness is mainly affecting your respiratory system.

A syndrome is any condition that comes with a set of symptoms, such as a runny nose, coughing, fever, etc.

COVID-19 symptoms

What is the CDC doing to protect us from diseases like COVID-19?

Besides monitoring the situation and keeping track of important data, the main role of the CDC is to provide information to the public.

Fear-mongering and misinformation are very common during any sort of public health scare, so it is important that the information you are getting and passing on is accurate.

Where did this coronavirus come from?

COVID-19 is a newly discovered virus, one that had never before been seen in humans.

Mysterious cases of pneumonia were first detected in Wuhan, China during December of 2019. On January 7, 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed that they identified a new virus, later named COVID-19 and nicknamed coronavirus.

We know that COVID-19 is zoonotic, meaning transferred between species.

This is how scientists believe the virus began with humans. Someone likely ate or came in close contact with an animal who had the virus.

  • Which animal?

We aren't sure yet. It looks like COVID-19 came from either a pangolin (a scaly ant-eater) or a bat, both pictured below.

  • Want to know how this happened?

Watch How do viruses jump from animals to humans? - Ben Longdon from TED-Ed:

The first person who was exposed to COVID-19 and became infected is known as patient zero. From there, they infected others and the virus spread.

spreading virus

Epidemic, pandemic, or endemic?

pandemic dice

COVID-19 began as an endemic - a disease that exists only in a particular area or group of people.

Epidemics are outbreaks of disease that spread through multiple communities and attack many people at the same time.

COVID-19 quickly became a pandemic, which is an epidemic that has spread throughout the world.

How did COVID-19 spread so quickly?

After COVID-19 jumped from animals to humans, it was easy for it to spread globally. It only takes one infected person in an airport to spread the virus to thousands of locations worldwide.

COVID-19 outbreak map

The video below (no sound) shows three scenarios in which an epidemic has begun. The first box is a scenario where people at the center of the outbreak are unlikely to travel long distances. The third scenario is the opposite: one where people are very likely to travel far from the outbreak.

  • Which one do you think is most similar to our world today?

How fast can an epidemic spread? from UC Berkeley:

For a more detailed explanation of this phenomenon, watch Pandemic Realities: Exponential growth of a pandemic, posted by Canadian Geographic:

Patients who are suspected to be infected with COVID-19 are immediately quarantined to try to stop the spread that you saw in the videos above.

A quarantine is when people who are infected or may be infected are separated from everyone else.

Anyone who has contact with these people wears protective clothing like an n95 respirator, which is an upgraded version of a face mask, or a hazardous materials (hazmat) suit, which is a suit that covers and protects the entire body.

quarantine sign and hazmat suit

People in quarantine are closely monitored to see if their health improves or worsens. If they are deemed healthy, they can go home. If not, they will stay in quarantine.

Wow, this is some serious stuff. Need a break? Go to the Got It? section to play some games.

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