With so much misinformation and confusion about the new coronavirus, we want to provide reliable facts. Here’s what you need to know.
Unless otherwise indicated, sources of our information are the American Cancer Society, the Cleveland Clinic, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the Kaiser Family Foundation, MedRxiv, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, The New York Times, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Science Daily, the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and USA Today.
What is the new coronavirus?
Actually, there are many coronaviruses, including viruses that cause colds and upper respiratory infections. Some of these viruses can make people ill. Others spread among animals such as bats, camels and cats.
The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, can cause respiratory illness in people and can even lead to death. This virus was first discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, China; people haven’t built up immunity to the COVID-19 virus.
SARS-CoV-2 is the technical name for the virus that triggers COVID-19 disease.
Other coronaviruses include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
How does the new coronavirus spread?
As with a cold or the flu, the new coronavirus spreads:
- Through the air by coughing or sneezing.
- Through close personal contact, such as shaking hands.
- By touching a surface or object with the virus on it. However, it’s thought that the most common transmission method is person to person.
Airborne droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people, or perhaps be inhaled into their lungs. If someone touches a surface or object with the new coronavirus on it, they can become infected if they then touch their mouth or nose (or possibly their eyes).
How long does the new coronavirus linger?
The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets, which are produced when you cough or sneeze. These droplets typically travel about 3 to 6 feet and then land on surfaces. New research suggests the new virus can stay in the air for as long as three hours and can remain on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for two to three days.
Who is most at risk of being infected?
Older adults (age 60 and above) and people of any age with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, chronic bronchitis and emphysema face the greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19 disease.
Can children get the COVID-19 virus?
Yes, children can be infected. But evidence has emerged indicating that children with this virus have fewer symptoms than adults and don’t become as sick. Children with compromised immune systems might be at a heightened risk of becoming severely ill, though.
Can my pet contract the COVID-19 virus?
For now, there’s no clear evidence that household pets like cats and dogs can be infected with the COVID-19 virus or can pass it along. The novel coronavirus reportedly originated with bats.
What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?
Common symptoms include:
- Low-grade fever.
- Body aches.
- Nasal congestion.
- Runny nose.
- Sore throat.
Severe symptoms include high-grade fever, severe cough and shortness of breath.
When do the symptoms start?
Symptoms might show up anywhere from two to 14 days after someone has been exposed to the new virus.
What should you do if you think you have the new coronavirus?
If you think you might have been exposed to the new coronavirus and are showing symptoms, call your doctor or another healthcare professional. It’s critical to make that call before heading to a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office to help prevent spreading this virus.
How do you know whether you actually have the new coronavirus?
A special test must be performed to verify that someone has a COVID-19 infection.
What is the difference between COVID-19 disease and the flu?
Both are infectious respiratory conditions with similar symptoms. The biggest disparity is that they’re caused by different viruses.
What’s the incubation period for the new coronavirus?
A study published in March 2020 and led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates the incubation period for the COVID-19 virus is 5.1 days. Incubation period refers to the time between being infected and showing symptoms.
How long is someone with the new virus contagious?
It’s believed that someone is most contagious when they begin exhibiting symptoms. However, contagiousness might last weeks after someone has recovered.
What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?
Isolation is more serious than quarantine.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a person or group of people who have been confirmed to have COVID-19 disease or are strongly suspected of having it are isolated, or separated, from people who aren’t infected. This helps reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. Isolation either can be voluntary or can be mandated by a government agency.
Quarantine refers to separating a person or group of people who’ve been exposed to the COVID-19 virus but don’t exhibit symptoms from people who haven’t been exposed. This, too, helps decrease the spread of the new coronavirus.
How long does it take to recover from COVID-19 disease?
It could take one to two weeks to shake off a mild case of COVID-19 disease. Rebounding from a more severe case could take at least six weeks.
Is there a treatment for the new coronavirus?
As of March 2020, there was no treatment geared toward COVID-19 disease. At this point, recovery from the disease includes:
- Getting plenty of rest.
- Staying well-hydrated.
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce achiness.
What is the mortality rate for the new coronavirus?
As of March 2020, the global mortality rate for COVID-19 disease was 3 percent to 4 percent. That’s a preliminary estimate, though. It’s thought that the rate actually could be closer to 1 percent. By comparison, the mortality rate for the flu is much lower — typically under 0.1 percent.
The World Health Organization points out that “mortality is to a large extent determined by access to and quality of health care.”
Is there a vaccine for the new coronavirus?
As of March 2020, there was no vaccine for the new coronavirus. However, scientists are working on one. A vaccine might not be available until 2021, though.
How can you protect yourself from the new coronavirus?
Here are key recommendations for prevention of a COVID-19 infection:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing or going to the bathroom, as well as before eating or preparing food.
- If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if your hands aren’t washed,
- Stay home when you’re sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then toss the tissue in the trash. Or cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow.
- Clean surfaces frequently. These include countertops, light switches, cellphones and remote controls.
- Try to maintain a physical distance from other people of at least 6 feet. This is part of an anti-coronavirus approach known as “social distancing.”
- Work from home if you’re able.
- As much as possible, stay away from places where lots of people gather, such as restaurants, bars, theaters and airports.
Should you wear a face mask?
Generally, there’s no need to wear a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re healthy, you need to wear a mask only if you’re caring for someone who’s suspected of having a COVID-19 infection. You also should wear a mask if you’re coughing or sneezing and, of course, if you’ve tested positive for this new virus.
Medical professionals urge healthy people to avoid buying face masks so that they’re available for ill people and their caregivers.
“If we see our friends, neighbors or other community members wearing a mask, we should not assume that they have been exposed to coronavirus or any other illness,” officials in King County, Washington, say. “We should avoid making assumptions about why someone is wearing a mask and make sure not to stigmatize or discriminate against people who choose to wear masks.”