At the close of 2019, a vast number of cases of some unknown illness were diagnosed in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. At the present date, this disease has now spread across the globe and is being considered a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and all hands are on deck to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Most cases are considered mild, but health officials claim that the spread of this virus across the United States is inevitable. As the nation prepares, here are some answers to the most important questions you may have.
What is it?
According to the WHO, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that range from a common cold to a much more serious disease infecting both humans and animals. The strain that began spreading in Wuhan, China, is related to two other coronaviruses that have had major outbreaks in the recent past, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
COVID-19 spreads more easily than SARS and is more closely related to other coronaviruses that cause cold-like symptoms. It is highly transmissible, and since cases are mild, the disease may be more widespread than current testing numbers suggest as some may not even know they are infected. People can and have been transmitting the virus before they show any symptoms.
Where has it spread in the U.S.?
As of now, every state in the United States has at least one confirmed case of COVID-19. This has led to major changes by state governments that have included shutting down borders and mandating that citizens stay in their homes. California and New York have suggested that people should not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary to help minimize the spread of the disease.
Is it fatal, and who is at risk?
Between 2 and 3 percent of reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States have been fatal according to WHO reports. Similar to other respiratory illnesses, older people and those with compromised immune systems are at an increased risk. As with every other disease, there can be tremendous individual variation in how people respond to the virus and whether it is a serious case or not. There will be people with known risk factors who recover as well as people who develop severe cases for reasons we don’t fully understand.
How should I prepare?
Something you have likely heard of before is social distancing. This means staying at least 6 feet away from others and attempting to be in public as little as possible. Social distancing helps to limit the transmission of the disease and is most accurately represented by the graphic on the right.
Don’t panic. The most important thing we can all do is remain calm. COVID-19 will pass, it’s only a matter of time. As with all viruses, there are some preliminary precautions you can take. You’ve heard it before, but I will say it again: wash your hands regularly. This helps prevent you from unconsciously spreading the virus between surfaces. It is recommended that you wash for at least twenty seconds after every meal, use of the restroom, and public excursion. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. If you’re sick, stay home and drink lots of fluids. One common misconception surrounding the disease is that wearing a mask will prevent you from contracting it. This is untrue. You should only be wearing a mask if you are a medical professional or are showing any symptoms. This myth can create shortages for those who need the masks and other medical supplies necessary to treat sick individuals. Lastly, don’t touch your face. Touching your eyes, nose, and mouth allows the virus to enter your system more easily, so avoid doing so when you can.
When will it end?
It is impossible to truly predict when this pandemic will end. It could follow similar patterns to other flu-like diseases and slow down during the summer months in the northern hemisphere and pick up in the south. COVID-19 will spread, but keeping safe and healthy should be our first priority.