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When CDC says “this might be bad”

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Chinese children wear plastic bottles as makeshift homemade protection and protective masks while waiting to check in to a flight at Beijing Capital Airport on January 30, 2020.

Try and take a deep breath. Don't look at your 401(k) but do look to the past with us this week. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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As we post this week’s podcast, COVID-19 has killed more than 2,700 people with more than 80,000 more confirmed cases worldwide. But the World Health Organization isn’t calling it a pandemic — yet.

On Tuesday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans to prepare for an outbreak, saying “this might be bad,” even though President Donald Trump on Twitter declared the disease “very much under control.” The Dow plummeted 1,000 points Monday with the news of new cases in South Korea, Italy and Iran. It lost another 879 points on Tuesday.

That all sounds very scary — and maybe don’t look at your retirement fund today. But part of the reason the World Health Organization isn’t rushing to label this a pandemic is to try and reduce panic.

Today, we’re not only talking about our current not-quite-pandemic, but pandemics writ large: how they evolve, impact economies and challenge social cohesion, and what we can learn from the past. Here to help us out is Olga Jonas, a senior fellow with the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Plus, we’ll get your thoughts on our affordable housing episode and read some responses to the question Kai and Molly asked last week: Where do Smarties like to listen to the show?

When you’re done listening, tell your Echo device to “make me smart” for new daily Alexa explainers — today’s is on bubble wrap — and don’t forget subscribe to our newsletter. If you missed it, here’s last week’s issue.

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