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Lesson Plans

What students should know about the coronavirus

January 31, 2020

Full Lesson


An Airport Express train service attendant wears a surgical mask and goggles while assisting passengers at Hong Kong International Airport, Jan. 30, 2020. Photographer: Ivan Abreu/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the questions. You can turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function and read along with the transcript here. Update to video: WHO has declared the coronavirus a global health emergency.


The World Health Organization has now declared the coronavirus outbreak in China to be a global health emergency. Officials in China confirmed more than 7,800 cases today (updated from video which states 6,000), with 212 deaths. The WHO said the virus is spreading worldwide, despite China’s efforts. “It’s not actually because China is not doing what it can. It’s actually doing more than China is required to do,” according to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, health officials reported the first case of the virus spreading person-to-person in the United States. A Chicago man contracted it from his wife, who had been to China. The U.S. now has six confirmed cases in all.

Discussion questions:

  1. Focus question: What are some of the challenges related to infectious diseases? (see WHO’s definition here.)
  2. What is a virus? What do you know about the coronavirus? What are some of the challenges for containing the virus in China?
  3. What are organizations like WHO and the CDC doing to help address the coronavirus in China and across the world, including the US? Why do authorities try to tamp down fears of a virus spreading while still raising awareness?
  4. Did you know that the flu virus took more than 30,000 lives in the U.S. last year. How does that affect your view of this story?
  5. What steps do you think scientists take when exploring a new virus, such as the coronavirus? Where could you look, if you’re not sure?

The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. Jan. 29, 2020. Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/Handout via REUTERS.

5. Media literacy: Why might it be helpful to check science-based websites like STAT news and Science News, in addition to general news websites when learning about the coronavirus?

Extension activity

How novel coronavirus could affect the global economy by Gretchen Frazee

First U.S. human-to-human spread of novel coronavirus confirmed by Laura Sanatham

Track the spread of novel coronavirus with this map by Laura Sanatham

This week has seen the rapid spread of novel coronavirus both within China and internationally to at least 14 other countries. On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared it a global public health emergency. As the U.S. records its first confirmed person-to-person transmission, NewsHour’s William Brangham talks to Dr. Anthony Fauci of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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