The CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States. Read more here.
People over 60 and those with severe chronic heart, lung, or kidney disease stay at home as much as possible and avoid crowds. Read more here.
Travelers, particularly those who are older and/or have underlying health issues, should “defer all cruise ship travel worldwide”. The CDC also notes that “cruise ship passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19″. Read more here.
Reputable Sources for Information:
Here are some of the answers to the most frequently asked questions we’re seeing on the subreddit. Please note that the University of Chicago Med resource contains more questions and answers than what we’ve copy/pasted here.
What is a coronavirus? What is a novel coronavirus?
A coronavirus is actually the name for a set of illnesses, including the common cold and other respiratory infections. A novel coronavirus means it’s a new virus that originated in animals, but has jumped to humans. This particular 2019 novel coronavirus from Wuhan is called COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV.
How does the COVID-19 spread?
This virus is really transmissible and can spread easily from person to person even before a person develops symptoms. It’s carried on respiratory droplets when we talk, sneeze, and cough and these can land on surfaces or in someone’s mouth or nose. When it comes to respiratory droplets, 6 feet is the magic distance. That’s how far these tiny, infected droplets can travel. Being within 6 feet of someone who is sick can get you or your personal space contaminated with COVID-19.
When droplets land on surfaces, we can pick them up with our hands and transfer them to our eyes, mouth, and nose when we touch our faces. This is why hand hygiene is so important. Respiratory secretions (like snot and sputum) are also infectious so cover your coughs and sneezes.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19? Is it deadly?
It typically causes flu-like symptoms. Some patients — particularly the elderly and others with other chronic health conditions — develop a severe form of pneumonia.
Patients develop symptoms like fever, muscle and body aches, cough, and sore throat about 5-6 days after infection. Most people will feel pretty miserable for a week and get better on their own. Some people won’t get as sick, but it’s still important not to be out and about, so as not to spread the disease. A minority of patients will get worse instead of better. This usually happens after 5-7 days of illness and these patients will have more shortness of breath and worsening cough. If this happens, it’s time to contact your doctor again or even go to an emergency room. Be sure to call first so they know you are coming.
The numbers of people who have been diagnosed and how many have died are changing daily. As of early March, there have been over 125,000 confirmed cases, with a death toll of about 4,500 (more than 3,000 in mainland China). But these numbers are just estimates; it’s still unclear how many people have actually been infected worldwide. Most of the deaths have been in adults over 60 years old who had other health concerns.
Is everyone at risk for catching COVID-19??
Yes. It doesn’t appear anyone is naturally immune to this particular virus, and there’s no reason to believe anybody has antibodies that would normally protect them. However, children appear to be among those least likely to have a bad outcome from contracting the disease.
The lack of previous experience with this virus is part of the reason public health officials are working so hard to contain the spread of this particular coronavirus. When viruses are both new (which means the population is highly susceptible) and can easily pass from person to person (a high transmission rate), they can be very dangerous.
Why do some people with the COVID-19 get sicker than others?
It looks like only about 20% of people who contract this novel coronavirus need to be hospitalized. The other 80% get what feels like a bad cold and recover at home. A lot of this has to do with underlying medical conditions. People who are more vulnerable to any kind of infection — because of their age or chronic health conditions — are more at risk for getting really sick from COVID-19.
That said, some otherwise healthy people do seem to be getting sicker from this infection than we would expect. We don’t understand why that is or what might be different about these patients. If you have COVID-19 and you are getting sicker and sicker instead of better and better, you should contact your doctor or visit an ER. Be sure to call first so they know to expect you.
Who are the most at-risk for contracting a severe case of COVID-19?
The most vulnerable populations for having a bad outcome with COVID-19 – including needing to be in the hospital or on a ventilator – are people over the age of 60 (especially men) with additional medical concerns. This includes people who are smokers, who have hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes, people who have low immune systems, people with underlying lung disease or who take medicines to suppress their immune systems because they have some sort of autoimmune condition or cancer.
We strongly recommend that these individuals begin curtailing all of their outdoor activities in accordance with the recent CDC guidelines. These people should not be traveling, and they should not be out in crowds. They should be staying home as much as possible. And if you haven’t been instructed to work from home, you should ask about working from home if you are in one of these groups.
What kind of medical care do patients with COVID-19 need?
About 80% of people who contract this new coronavirus will feel sick, but ultimately be just fine. It’s the 20% of COVID-19 patients who get really, really sick that worry many of us in the infectious diseases field. A lot of these critically ill patients wind up needing to be hospitalized for their pneumonia-like illnesses. They typically require critical care and ventilation — special machines that help them breathe. And some need to stay on ventilators for weeks at a time. It’s this portion of patients that is most concerning. Depending on how many cases develop here in the U.S., providing that level of care for so many people over a number of weeks runs the risk of overwhelming the nation’s health care system pretty quickly. We can help prevent this kind of “surge” in patients by practicing social distancing.
How do you screen patients for COVID-19?
At UChicago Medicine, our teams are following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means we’re asking any patient who has respiratory symptoms and a fever if they’ve traveled to the affected areas in the past two weeks or been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
Patients who answer yes will immediately be given a facemask and put in an isolation room, which has special airflow designed to keep airborne germs from getting out into other rooms. Then, they’ll be tested for the usual seasonal respiratory viruses and, if those are negative, tests will be sent for COVID-19 as well. Turnaround time on the COVID lab test is 1-2 days. People will need to remain in isolation until they’re cleared. But they may not need to stay in the hospital. Most patients are well enough to rest at home while waiting for the test results.
We’re also instructing our clinical teams to follow standard infection control protocols. Our doctors, nurses and other clinical staff will wear protective gear, such as gowns, gloves, masks and eye shields. That’s what they do with anyone who has something like the flu and it’s the same steps we followed during the SARS and MERS outbreaks. We’re also reminding everyone to make sure to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their faces — that’s good practice any time of the year, and especially during flu season.
Should people be more concerned about the seasonal flu or COVID-19?
There’s widespread seasonal flu activity going on right now all around the U.S. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself from influenza. You can get an annual flu shot. You can take medication like Tamiflu that protects you from getting influenza after you’ve been exposed. You can cover your mouth and wash your hands to mitigate the spread. And, like clockwork, this year’s influenza strain is going to die out in the spring because it will have run its course.
The challenge with COVID-19 is that we probably can’t contain it and we don’t know if we’re really prepared as a country for a massive coronavirus epidemic. If we are lucky, it will slow down a bit over the summer but the next few months look like they are going to be pretty tough for all of us. We need to be as ready as we can for whatever comes our way and know that we will get through it eventually.
How can I protect myself? Should I wear a facemask?
Take the preventive actions you do for the cold and flu. This includes avoiding close contact with people who are sick; not touching your eyes, nose and mouth; washing your hands thoroughly and frequently; and cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces you come in contact with regularly.
The CDC does not recommend you wear a facemask to protect yourself from getting COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses. Those who have COVID-19 and/or are showing symptoms should wear a mask to protect others from getting the virus. Any healthcare worker taking care of someone infected with COVID-19 also should wear a mask.
What should I do if I think I am infected with COVID-19?
If you think you may have COVID-19, reach out to your doctor right away. If you’re going to your doctor’s office or an emergency room, call ahead so someone can meet you outside to give you a facemask to help limit the spread of any germs. In the meantime, stay away from other people. If you live with others, choose a room or place in your home where you can be separated from the others. Don’t share utensils or cups. Have someone wipe down bathroom surfaces with disinfectant regularly, keep their hands clean, and try to keep the windows open for air circulation. Don’t forget to cover your coughs and sneezes.
Can I get tested for COVID-19 if I’m worried I’ve been exposed?
Only if you are sick. The test to diagnose COVID-19 isn’t useful unless you are sick and it’s still more limited than any of us want it to be. Make sure you tell your doctor about any risks for COVID you may have so they can get you a test if you need it.
It’s also worth mentioning that people shouldn’t be worried if they go to their doctor’s office and get tested for respiratory viruses and the results say they have a coronavirus. That’s because coronavirus is the name for a whole group of viruses, including things like the common cold. Most doctors’ offices can test for normal, everyday coronaviruses. If you see test results that say you have one, you shouldn’t worry. If you are being tested for COVID-19, your doctor will be very, very specific and will walk you through any results that come back.
Is COVID-19 airborne?
In infection control, we draw a line between things that are transmitted by traveling in the air briefly in respiratory droplets and things that are actually aerosolized and float around for a while. Think of droplets as small bits of fluid that you can feel and see when someone sneezes. You sneeze or cough and these droplets get on surfaces and then you touch them and get them on your hands, or they can fly right into your mouth or nose or eyes. That’s how most coronaviruses are transmitted and that’s how we think this one is too.
Aerosols are different. Think of hairspray after you use it in the bathroom. When you go back to the bathroom later, you may still be able to smell it because it’s lingering in the air. Obviously, we’re learning a lot about this virus, but most coronaviruses aren’t airborne that way. Generally speaking, there may be times when some of these droplets or particles are airborne, but it’s limited.
Can I take an antibiotic or vaccinate against the virus?
There is no antibiotic (they are designed for bacterial infections, not viral ones) to treat COVID-19. Scientists are already working on a vaccine, but we don’t expect to have a good vaccine until spring of 2021 at the earliest. However, ongoing trials in China suggest that there are some existing antiviral drugs that may be helpful for the sickest patients. In fact, the University of Chicago is part of a multi-institutional team that has mapped a protein of SARS-CoV-2 and found drugs previously in development for SARS could be effective for COVID-19.
For now, doctors can only treat the symptoms, not the virus itself.