Coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, is spreading rapidly throughout the world. Globally, the World Health Organization reports there are more than 3.6 million confirmed cases and more than 256,000 deaths. Here in the U.S., it is shutting down businesses, schools and officials are urging everyone to stay home. Hospitals and healthcare systems are overwhelmed with those infected, and are preparing for an influx of patients as more test kits are finally made available. It’s also killing those with already weakened immune systems, leaving us to wonder how we can protect not only ourselves but our elderly and immunocompromised population. One thing is clear: COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon.
Here is the latest on what we know about COVID-19, and ways you can protect yourself and support others. Editor’s Note: This page will be updated as new information is released.
Coronavirus headlines you should see:
The Atlantic: “The Pandemic Will Change American Retail Forever“
“The American economy is about to endure a once-in-a-generation kind of retooling, one that’ll both decimate and reshape our storefronts. As this recession deepens, keep your eye on these four economic trends, as noted by our writers…”
“Today’s tragedy can be, sometimes, tomorrow’s possibility. According to Snowden, pandemics don’t only reflect a society’s existing vulnerabilities — they present an unprecedented opportunity for transformational change. In his new book, Epidemics and Society, Snowden explores how infectious diseases across time have altered the outcomes of wars, inspired political reform, demolished revolutions, transformed entire societies’ relationships with God, and fundamentally changed the course of human history.”
The Washington Post: “Answers to your DIY face mask questions, including what material you should use“
“Covering your mouth and nose is one more thing people can do in addition to social distancing and hand-washing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medical-grade masks are scarce and should be reserved for front-line health-care workers who are repeatedly exposed to huge amounts of the virus.”
“Even as coronavirus deaths continue to mount across Europe, New York and other hot spots, the U.S. and other governments are slowly beginning to envision an exit strategy and contemplating a staggered and carefully calibrated relaxation of the restrictions designed to curb the scourge.”
The Coronavirus outbreak is now officially a pandemic, per the World Health Organization. “Pandemic is not a word to be used lightly,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”
How many confirmed cases are there in the U.S.?
Currently, there are more than 1.2 million reported cases and 70,000 deaths.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Two to 14 days after exposure, the following flu-like symptoms may appear, according to the CDC:
- Dry Cough
- Shortness of breath and trouble breathing
Harvard notes that “there have been some reports of gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) before respiratory symptoms occur, but this is largely a respiratory virus.”
Who is most likely to get Coronavirus?
No one is immune, but from what health care professionals have seen from the virus so far, the elderly and others with chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases are most impacted by Coronavirus and may develop a severe form of pneumonia from the virus.
“It looks like only about 20% of people who contract this novel coronavirus need to be hospitalized,” University of Chicago Medicine states. “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.”
Children are thought to be at a lower-risk for severe Coronavirus symptoms at this time. “The thought is that perhaps children, because their immune systems are less mature, just don’t mount as much of a response to the infection as adults do,” said John Williams, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, to National Geographic.
What should you do if you feel sick?
Johns Hopkins Medicine stresses to stay calm if you believe you may be infected. “Unless it is an emergency, to reduce your risk of catching or spreading illness, stay home if you feel sick, even if your symptoms are mild. Do not go to work, school or public places, and avoid public transportation.”
- Stay home and isolate yourself! Stay away from others — animals included — and call your doctor if you develop symptoms or have been in close contact with someone affected with COVID-19.
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor or a hospital. Let them know you may have COVID-19.
- Seek medical attention if your illness is worsening (e.g., difficulty breathing).
- Wear a facemask and gloves, if available, if you are around others and before visiting the doctor.
- Ask your healthcare provider to alert the local or state health department.
- Call 911 if you have a medical emergency and notify the dispatch personnel that you have, or are being evaluated for COVID-19.
“Most people will feel pretty miserable for a week and get better on their own,” the University of Chicago Medicine reports. “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.”
How does the disease spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 “seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community,” per the CDC. There is also now evidence that people who do not show severe symptoms can spread it silently. Here is what they know right now:
Person-to-person: The virus is thought to mainly spread from person-to-person contact, within about 6 feet. This also includes contact through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Contact with contaminated objects or surfaces: It may be possible to contract the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own nose, mouth, or eyes. But this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Can someone spread the virus without being sick? The CDC has found that “people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest). Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
What is going on with testing kits?
What do we know: the government does not have enough. According to ABC News, the CDC is off “to a slow start.” Because of this, we don’t really know where the virus might be spreading or have an actual case count of those affected. Current counts put the number at 75,000 kits in the U.S., but that number will radically increase in the next few weeks.
According to the National Institutes of Health, if you’re not quarantined on an air base or cruise ship, the only way to get a coronavirus test is by contacting a healthcare professional.
Precautions to follow and supplies to stock up on:
In addition to following recommended CDC guidelines, here is advice from James Robb, MD FCAP, a former professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego, and one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses (in the 1970s).
- NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.
- Use your knuckles. Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches, elevator buttons, etc. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.
- Open doors with your closed fist or hip. Do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.
- Use disinfectant wipes. Get them at stores when they are available. Be sure to wipe the handle and child seat on grocery carts.
- Wash your hands with soap. Do this for 20 seconds, and/or use a greater-than-60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.
- Keep a bottle of sanitizer at each of your home’s entrances. Also, keep in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
- If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!
Stock up on (if you can find it) — but don’t clean out the shelves:
Latex or Nitrile Latex Disposable Gloves
Use these when going shopping, using the gasoline pump, and all other outside activities when you come in contact with contaminated areas.
Note: This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you! But all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average – everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces and you will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon. This virus only has cell receptors for lung cells (it only infects your lungs). The only way for the virus to infect you is through your nose or mouth via your hands or an infected cough or sneeze onto or into your nose or mouth.
Disposable Surgical Masks
Use them to prevent touching your nose and/or mouth (We touch our nose or mouth 90 times a day without knowing it!). This is the only way this virus can infect you — it is lung-specific. The mask will not prevent the virus in a direct sneeze from getting into your nose or mouth — it is only to keep you from touching your nose or mouth.
Hand Sanitizers and Latex/Nitrile Gloves
Get the appropriate sizes for your family. The hand sanitizers must be alcohol-based and greater than 60% alcohol to be effective.
These lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY “cold-like” symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx. Cold-Eeze lozenges is one brand available.
Should you stockpile food?
It’s never a horrible idea to have shelf-stable pantry items on hand — enough for a few days. If we are heading towards a true containment, you would want to purchase enough food, water and medicine to last 14 days. Before you go shopping, check out this list of items.
How to support the elderly and those compromised:
It might be time to have the elderly and those who are immune compromised to self-quarantine, to some extent. Make sure you loved ones are prepared with food, water, soap and hand sanitizer. If someone is in a nursing home, note that many are limiting visitors.
Looking for more ways to help? Here are five ideas.
Should you travel?
Internationally? Probably not. But if you had domestic spring break plans, check the latest state and federal travel updates before you pack your bags. Walt Disney World and Disneyland are still open, for now, but overseas many popular tourist attractions did shut down. If you do want to cancel plans, luckily most airlines are waiving change fees for flights.
How is this all going to end… and when?
It’s all up in the air right now, but Vox suggests the only thing that could have ended this pandemic is containment, which we are well past. “The idea is that through identifying and isolating the sick, the virus could be kept from spreading in communities around the globe. It seemed reasonable: Containment was how the 2003 SARS outbreak — also caused by a member of the coronavirus family — ended.”
Stay on top of the confirmed cases and deaths globally here, with a real-time dashboard from John’s Hopkins.
** Robb’s comment regarding the use of zinc lozenges has been the subject of some criticism. The fact-checking website Snopes followed up with the doctor. See the response below.
“While Robb does recommend zinc lozenges (of any brand, he told us), he would not describe the product as the silver bullet solution to the outbreak:
In my experience as a virologist and pathologist, zinc will inhibit the replication of many viruses, including coronaviruses. I expect COVID-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus] will be inhibited similarly, but I have no direct experimental support for this claim. I must add, however, that using zinc lozenges as directed by the manufacturer is no guarantee against being infected by the virus, even if it inhibits the viral replication in the nasopharynx.
In general terms, research suggests that zinc may be able to inhibit the spread of some viral infections, but the question remains scientifically unsettled. A 2010 study using cell cultures published in PLOS One found evidence that increasing intracellular zinc concentrations “can efficiently impair the replication of a variety of RNA viruses” including coronaviruses. According to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, “trials conducted in high-income countries since 1984 investigating the role of zinc for the common cold symptoms have had mixed results.” The common cold is caused by a virus also classified as a coronavirus.
Because the letter was written by him, we rank this claim as “Correctly Attributed” to Robb. For more tips on protecting against the coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tip sheet here.”