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Go read this fascinating NYT report on the response to the first US coronavirus case

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A race against the clock to contain the outbreak before it spreads too fast

US-CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP via Getty Images

The spread of contagious diseases is an exceedingly complex phenomenon influenced by everything from the science behind a virus, the sociology that governs how it spreads, the pubic policy that dictates the medical and political response, and the transportation measures taken to blunt exposure.

Oftentimes, it’s boiled down to a silly montage in a movie that makes it seem inevitable that a fast-moving illness can and will spread across the globe in just weeks. But depictions like that also undermine how much work goes into containing viruses like the recent coronavirus outbreak that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has since spread worldwide.

Thankfully, The New York Times this week published a fascinating look at just what mechanisms are in place in the US to contain something like the coronavirus and how those preemptive measures actually function in the real world. It’s a great and in-depth recounting of the timeline of events, starting with when US health officials first realized someone who had recently traveled to China had returned to the Seattle area with the coronavirus.

Only 12 people in the US have contracted the illness, which has claimed more than 600 lives and now has tens of thousands of reported cases globally. Yet health officials and medical professionals Stateside have been treating the situation as a race against the clock to ensure the outbreak doesn’t accelerate throughout the US, the NYT reports.

The NYT report also has great details about what it looks like to discover something as virulent and potentially catastrophic as a new strain within a wide-ranging family of illnesses. That includes the early quarantine measures taken after the first confirmed case, a 35-year-old resident of Snohomish County, Washington, popped up last month. There are scores of other interesting details in the report, including how much pressure is put on local health jurisdictions to try to contain an outbreak before the federal government steps in.

Go read the NYT’s report here to learn more about how health crises like this are managed and how that process is ever-evolving.