UPDATED April 11 2020
As the whole world continues to feel the impact of the pandemic Covid-19 (coronavirus), we are all being constantly bombarded with ever-changing information, advice, recommendations, regulations, and statistics around this disease. It can be really hard to determine what’s true and what’s not, what advice to follow and what to ignore.
Even governments can’t seem to get their messages straight. Here are just a few of the contradictions being dolled out to compound our confusion:
- Stay home! (but many non-essential stores and shops are still open).
- Hydroxychloroquine will probably work! (even though there is no scientific evidence to support this claim yet).
- Don’t wear a mask unless you’re sick or a healthcare worker! Wait, scratch that. Everyone should be wearing a mask when out in public.
- Covid19 is no different from the flu. Except, it is. In fact, it’s very different and much worse than the flu.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, but you get my drift.
To help you wade through the muddy waters of information out there, I’ve come up with a list of questions and answers about Covid-19 that I hope will help you gain some clarity and understanding around this disease.
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19 is a type of virus called a coronavirus. It gets its name because the virus has spikes that resemble a crown (Latin for crown is corona).
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause illness in animals or humans. Common colds may be caused by coronaviruses. But these viruses can cause more severe diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Covid-19.
Covid-19 is a novel virus meaning that it is brand new and never before been detected in humans. This means our immune systems don’t recognize it and therefore have to work much harder to fight it off.
Why is it called Covid-19 and SARS-Cov-2?
Covid-19 (short for Corona Virus 2019) is the name of the disease itself while SARS-Cov-2 is the name of the virus that causes Covid19.
Where did the SARS-Cov-2 virus come from?
The first human case of Covid-19 caused by the SARS-Cov-2 virus originated in Wuhan, China. It has been linked to a ‘wet market’ in China’s Hubei province.
Many scientists believe the virus originated in bats. But this doesn’t necessarily mean it was transmitted from bat to human. It’s possible that bats came in contact with other animals (such as pigs) and was transmitted that way.
What are the symptoms of Covid-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough.
Some people will experience body aches, runny nose, sore throat and/or diarrhea. In severe cases, patients may have difficulty breathing requiring emergency attention.
In addition to lung damage, many COVID-19 patients are also developing heart damage—and some are dying of cardiac arrest.
Although rare, there have been some reports of folks presenting with neurological symptoms such as altered mental status, strokes, and seizures.
How is Covid-19 spread?
So far, the CDC and WHO both maintain that the virus is only transmitted via droplets from the nose or mouth that are expelled when a person sneezes or coughs. But some scientists believe the virus can linger in the air from simply talking or breathing.
In order for the virus to enter your body, it has to have a portal of entry such as your nose or mouth. That’s why it’s so important to refrain from touching your face!
Droplets are believed to travel around 6 feet (2m) when expelled by sneezing or coughing. However, researchers at MIT concluded that droplets can travel much farther than that. Twenty-one feet (6m) further to be exact. This means that 6 feet (2m) of social distancing is not nearly enough to prevent human-to-human transmission of the virus.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that under the right conditions, liquid droplets from sneezes, coughs and just exhaling can linger in the air for minutes. But a report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can hang around in the air for several HOURS.
Aside from being dispersed directly from person-to-person, droplets can also land on surfaces and stay there anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. This means if you touch a doorknob that has been showered with the SARS-Cov-2, then it’s possible for you to contract the virus from that doorknob and spread it to others.
Can someone with no symptoms still spread the virus?
We now know that this virus can start to shed before someone ever starts to show symptoms. This means that Covid-19 can be passed on to others by people who aren’t yet showing signs of the illness (such as coughing, fever or body aches).
This is why the CDC is now recommending that everyone wear a cloth mask if you have to go out and why social distancing is so important.
What can I do to stop the spread of Covid-19 and prevent myself (and everyone else) from getting ill?
Here are the 7 most important things you can do to ‘flatten the curve’:
- WASH YOUR HANDS using soap and water or a hand sanitizer (that is at least 70% alcohol). Here’s the right way to do it.
- Only leave your home for absolute essentials such as groceries, medical care, medications, work (if you can’t work from home) and exercise.
- Wear a cloth mask when out in public. Here’s instructions on how to make a no-sew version. Yes, the CDC and the WHO originally advised against this but now the CDC has changed its mind (again). Masks protect you and others. And now that we know Covid-19 can be transmitted from a person without symptoms, it’s all the more important to keep our mouths and noses covered. Masks also prevent us from touching our bare faces.
- Sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue (and then immediately discard the tissue). Do not use handkerchiefs. They’re gross anyway.
- Don’t touch your face. The virus enters your body through the nose and mouth.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, countertops, etc with a disinfectant. Click here to get a list of EPA-approved disinfectants for the SARS-Cov-2.
- Practice social distancing (more on this in the next question).
What is and isn’t OK when it comes to social distancing?
Social distancing means that you stay away from other people as much as you possibly can. This is harsh, but it’s the only way to flatten the curve.
Sadly, this means that you shouldn’t go to someone else’s home and they shouldn’t come to yours – even family and friends. The new CDC guidance is to avoid all social visits for now. This means no beaches, no playgrounds, no picnics, no parties, no gatherings of any kind.
And no more than 2 people should be ‘congregating’ when outside or in public spaces.
Furthermore, health experts are recommending that older adults avoid contact with children. This advice is based on a new study in the journal Pediatrics that found that 13% of children with confirmed cases of COVID-19 didn’t show any symptoms at all during the course of the infection. Therefore, children (like adults) can be contagious without actually being sick.
If you do have to go out for essentials, be sure to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet (or more if possible) between you and others and wear a cloth mask.
Be sure to check in with your friends and family via phone calls and video conferencing. This is especially important for those that are already vulnerable to the effects of isolation.
Why are stores and shops open if I’m not supposed to be out?
That’s a great question. When folks are being told to stay at home but shopping centers, and other non-essential businesses, are open it’s hard to know what to do, really.
We need 100% clarity and direction during a crisis like this but we’re not really getting it.
The bottom line is this. Even if your town, city or state hasn’t officially closed non-essential businesses, you should still do your part by avoiding going shopping or soliciting services from brick-and-mortar establishments that aren’t delivering or offering curbside/parking lot pickup. Call your favorite business and ask what alternatives they may be offering to accommodate social distancing. If you’re able, it’s so important to support businesses, especially small businesses, during this crisis.
What type of face mask should I be wearing?
The CDC recommends that everyone wear a cloth face mask if you have to leave your home. Masks prevent you from spreading Covid-19 if you have the disease but don’t yet have symptoms.
The WHO claims that masks offer zero protection for the wearers, but I disagree with this. Having your mouth and nose covered provides at least some protection. And masks prevent folks from directly touching their faces.
Surgical masks and N95 masks should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers who must be in close contact with patients who have Covid-19. There is a global shortage of N95 masks which means healthcare workers are at a very high risk of getting ill from the virus if they don’t have proper personal protective equipment (PPE). And if they’re sick, they can’t take care of patients who need them most.
It’s important that you know how to properly put on and take off your masks. Here are the CDC’s instructions for the use of cloth face masks.
Do I need to wear gloves if I have to leave my home?
Is it OK to accept packages? Can they be contaminated with Covid-19?
Many people are wondering if it’s possible to pick up Covid-19 from packages they receive in the mail.
In a Q&A segment on its site, WHO has stated, “the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is low.”
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Covid-19 can live up to 3 hours in the air, 4 hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard and 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.
Given that most parcels are sent in cardboard, and that many take longer than 24-hours to get to you, the likelihood of the virus remaining on your package by the time you receive it is really low.
If you want to take extra precautions, here are a couple of options:
- Quarantine your package or mail for 24 hours outside (if there’s a safe place) or in your garage.
- Spray the outside of a cardboard package with disinfectant spray. Then wipe any inside packaging with a disinfectant wipe. Be sure to WASH YOUR HANDS after you’ve disinfected.
How sick can Covid-19 make people?
While some people will only experience mild symptoms from Covid-19, about 1 in 6 will become seriously ill requiring hospitalization, possibly in an intensive care unit. Sadly, over 75,000 people worldwide have lost their life to Covid-19. It’s projected that 100-200,000 people will die in the U.S. alone.
The virus has an affinity for the lungs. It attaches itself there and causes damage which can lead to pneumonia and a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome. If someone gets seriously ill, and can’t breathe on their own, they may need to be placed on a mechanical ventilator until they improve.
As mentioned above, in addition to lung damage, many COVID-19 patients are developing heart damage—and some patients are dying of cardiac arrest. And although rare, there have been some reports of folks presenting with neurological symptoms such as altered mental status, strokes, and seizures.
Do young people need to be concerned about Covid-19?
There is a dangerous misconception that Covid-19 only seriously affects older people and those with weak immune systems. But young people are also getting very sick and dying from Covid-19.
People of all ages should take preventive measures like frequent hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a mask when going out in public, to help protect themselves and to reduce the chances of spreading the infection to others.
Isn’t Covid-19 the same as the seasonal flu?
No, it isn’t. Not by a longshot.
Here are a few of the reasons Covid19 is worse than the seasonal flu (sourced from NPR Fact Check):
- Unlike seasonal flu, there is no vaccine or drug for Covid-19.
- Covid-19 is TWICE as contagious as the flu. About 8% of the population gets the flu. Current estimates predict that between 50-80% of the population could contract Covid-19 if strict measures aren’t put into play (and followed) to stop the spread.
- Around 20% of people who get Covid-19 will need to be hospitalized. This is DOUBLE the percentage of folks who would likely need hospital care if they get the flu.
What is the treatment for Covid-19?
Currently, there are no definitive treatments for Covid-19. Those affected with mild symptoms can do ‘supportive’ care which means plenty of rest, fluids, good nutrition, etc.
People with serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing may need to be hospitalized so they can get round-the-clock care. Some folks may need help breathing and will be placed on a ‘mechanical ventilator’ until their lungs have time to get better.
Efforts are underway to develop antiviral drugs to help treat Covid-19. And there are also drugs being considered that are already being used for other clinical conditions. Several agents have been proposed and are being tested including the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir, the antiviral remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine (more on this specific drug in the next question).
A small study out of China found that giving plasma from the blood of people who have had Covid-19 (and fully recovered) could help bide time for those with severe illness recover.
US hospitals are starting to try plasma transfusions, too. The American Association of Blood Banks has set up a web page so people recovered from Covid-19 can find out where to donate blood. The Red Cross is doing the same.
The US Food and Drug Administration says people should wait 14 days after symptoms to donate.
Can’t hydroxychloroquine be used to treat Covid-19?
The short answer, for now, is no.
I’m sure you’ve heard the buzz by now about hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment to reduce severe symptoms in people with Covid-19. Donald Trump has called it a “miracle cure.”
Seriously ill patients in China were given this drug in a last-ditch effort to save those who were dying. Some got better, but many didn’t. The fact is, without solid clinical trials (which are underway) we don’t know if it works.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House infectious disease guru, has repeatedly warned that there is no conclusive evidence to support the use of hydroxychloroquine at this time.
Unfortunately, heightened demand for this drug has left those who rely on it most, including patients with lupus, without access. And overdoses have been reported as panicked people try to self-medicate (hydroxychloroquine is very toxic if not taken correctly).
Until we know for sure if this medication works for the virus, officials should stop promoting it as a cure.
Is there a vaccine for Covid-19?
Not yet. But development is in the works.
It will likely be 2021 before we see a vaccine approved for use in humans.
Is it OK to take ibuprofen?
You may have heard that it’s dangerous to take ibuprofen if you have Covid-19. This concern manifested when an article in The Lancet proposed that ibuprofen “boosts the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which may facilitate and worsen COVID-19.” As a result of this report, the WHO advised people with Covid-19 to avoid ibuprofen and take acetaminophen (Tylenol, paracetamol) instead.
To add to everyone’s confusion, the World Health Organization has now changed its stance on taking ibuprofen if you have COVID-19. They now say they DON’T advise against taking ibuprofen. It’s easy to see why we’re all so confused, huh?
So what to do?
There is no definitive evidence that proves ibuprofen can cause worse outcomes in those with Covid-19. As for me, I will avoid it for now given the uncertainty. If you’re concerned, have a chat with your doctor or nurse.
What should I do if I have symptoms of Covid-19?
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Confusion, altered mental status or extreme fatigue
- Bluish lips or face
*This list is not exhaustive. You should call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.
If you do need emergency care, try to let the emergency medical technicians (if you’ve dialed for an ambulance) or the ER know beforehand that you may have Covid-19 and that you’re on your way. This way, they can (hopefully) prepare properly with personal protective equipment and isolation procedures.
If you have mild symptoms, call your medical provider for advice on how to proceed. The most important thing you can do if you get sick is to STAY AT HOME. Many clinics are offering virtual visits using video conferencing software.
If your medical provider advises you to go to a clinic, then avoid public transportation if at all possible. If you have to be out in public on your way to the doctor, wear a mask and practice good respiratory hygiene.
Who has to self-isolate?
Guidelines and regulations regarding self-isolation will vary depending on where you live.
The general gist is this:
- If you have tested positive for COVID-19 you must self-isolate in your home (or other suitable accommodation) until you have been told you can be released. Your medical provider or health department will let you know.
- If you have been tested for COVID-19 you must isolate yourself in your home (or other suitable accommodation) while you are waiting for your result.
- If you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 you must isolate yourself in your home (or other suitable accommodation) for 14 days after the date of the last contact with the confirmed case.
- If you have been diagnosed with Covid-19, you will have to self-isolate yourself, and anyone living with you, until you have been told it’s safe for everyone to be released from isolation. Your medical provider or health department will let you know.
Again, these regulations will vary depending on your location, but these are the general concepts.
Can my pet get Covid-19?
No one is really sure yet (unless your pet is a tiger).
If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed), you should restrict contact with pets and other animals just to be on the safe side.
Spread Love, Not Covid
My family and I went for our daily walk around our neighborhood today. We were doing our socially-distant bear-hunting when we noticed brightly colored notices tacked to trees along the sidewalk. On them were encouraging messages (“We’re All In This Together!”) and corny little jokes for the kids to enjoy. It brought tears to my eyes.
Despite the absolute chaos going on in the world due to Covid-19, this gesture reminded me that we truly are all in this together. These are trying times, to say the least. The best we can do is support each other, stay virtually connected and be kind to one another.
And don’t forget to show your gratitude to frontline healthcare workers, grocery store workers, delivery people, sanitation workers and anyone else who is out there making the world go round while the rest of us shelter in place.
Spread love, not Covid 🙂
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions, or just want to let me know how you’re feeling, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’d love to hear from you!