The coronavirus outbreak (or COVID-19, as it’s officially known) is well on its way to becoming a pandemic. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, pandemic means that it’s a worldwide outbreak. As in, this virus is quickly making its way around the world even though we’re trying to stop it.
When it’s in another country, like China, we don’t think too much about it. When it’s Italy, it maybe feels a little closer to home. When it shows up in Chicago, we may think twice. But we can trace most of these occurrences back to China. There’s a root cause. An underlying connection. That helps us wrap our heads around this virus and theoretically contain it and avoid it.
However, COVID-19 is starting to show up in places that have no connection to China or travel to/from China. It’s spreading, and fast. And it’s pretty shocking how people are reacting.
Just today, while watching a televised conference from the World Health Organization (WHO), here are some of the comments I saw (yes, these are ACTUAL comments):
“This is killing far fewer than the common annual flu! Stop falling for the fear propaganda.”
“This whole is a plan to take down our economy and OUR PRESIDENT!!!”
“Strange that this virus started right before the election. Man-Made?”
“These are the same precautions as the WHO and CDC put out to prevent flu and common cold. people need to quit panicking!”
“Someone unleashed a deadly virus on the world & we’re not supposed to care who it was & how it happened so we can stop this from happening again or holding them accountable. Absolutely ludicrous!”
Whether you’re convinced that this is a giant conspiracy that is politically motivated, or the work of an evil mastermind plotting to take over the world, or the beginning of the end of days, one thing is certain. COVID-19 is a real virus that’s spreading. So how about we sift through all of the mass hysteria and figure out the facts together.
Side note: My brother lives in China and has been existing alongside the COVID-19 outbreak for a month now. He provided me his own insights for how to prepare.
Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19
What is a coronavirus?
Let’s start with defining a virus. It’s a little parasite that needs a host to survive. Guess who usually serves as host? Yep. We humans provide lots of cells for these viruses, which attach to individual cells and create more of themselves. It’s a whole DNA/RNA thing that’s really messy and makes us feel lousy. The common cold is a virus. The flu is a virus. And that stomach bug? Yep, it’s a virus. (As a reminder, antibiotics cannot kill viruses although sometimes they’re necessary when a secondary infection arises).
A coronavirus is simply referring to the shape of the actual virus. Much like the corona of the sun, these littles viruses have crowns or halos. These little spiky things make them especially resilient in our bodies and are even responsible for some common colds and gastrointestinal infections.
What’s the big deal with THIS coronavirus then?
Some colds are caused by a coronavirus. But not all coronaviruses cause colds. They do, generally wreak respiratory havoc and some can be much tougher for our bodies to fight than others.
Remember SARS? That was a coronavirus and it was a pretty big deal in Asia back in 2003. SARS (or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) started in China but news was suppressed so it spread quickly (through normal transmission and through sexual transmission) before anyone could react accordingly. Once it was reported as a thing, everyone pitched in and quickly helped isolate it and eradicate it. But not before over 8000 people were affected and over 800 people died.
Quick eradication is key. Then the virus doesn’t have time to spread further and mutate.
Why is everyone so worried about COVID-19?
Let’s talk about two things: the virus and the disease.
Much like HIV causes AIDS, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that results in COVID-19, the disease. It is genetically related to the SARS virus from 2003 but is different. SARS had a higher death rate but this virus is much more infectious.
SARS was easy to eradicate because they could quickly identify those that were carrying the virus based on their symptoms. For COVID-19, the incubation period is much longer. You could be walking around feeling fine and dandy, not knowing you were carrying the virus, and spreading your own form of sunshine for 5 to 15 days. Some accounts have even said it can be up to 27 days.
The first problem is identifying it. The second is containing it. The third is understanding it and figuring out what to do about it. We’re working quickly but the virus is a little quicker.
How is COVID-19 spread?
Much like other respiratory viruses, this one likes to hang out in your saliva. Coughing and sneezing are the biggest culprits of spreading the virus. But it also means sharing drinks, kissing, shaking hands, and even touching infected surfaces can spread the infection.
But you’re a grown-up. You should know all this, right?
(Yes, there really is a reason we should cough and sneeze into our elbow and NOT our hands).
Is COVID-19 better or worse than the flu?
According to Live Science, there isn’t a simple answer:
The new coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, has led to more than 75,000 illnesses and 2,000 deaths, primarily in mainland China. But that’s nothing compared with the flu, also called influenza. In the U.S. alone, the flu has already caused an estimated 26 million illnesses, 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Live Science: How does the new coronavirus compare with the flu?
At first glance, COVID-19 seems mild in comparison to the flu. But keep in mind that we’ve been studying the flu virus for decades. We can predict what mutations we’ll see from year to year. We have anti-viral medication to lessen the severity of the flu. And we know that it’s seasonal. There will be a drop off in the number of cases by the Spring.
For COVID-19, there are many many unknowns and some possible differences from the flu. Johns Hopkins suggests that transmission could be of concern:
While both the flu and COVID-19 may be transmitted in similar ways, there is also a possible difference: COVID-19 might be spread through the airborne route, meaning that tiny droplets remaining in the air could cause disease in others even after the ill person is no longer near.Johns Hopkins Medicine: Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flu
The bottom line is that the flu can be deadly. But COVID-19 can also be deadly and we know much less about it and what its future is.
How deadly is COVID-19?
That depends on who you ask. Many will say it’s too soon to calculate an actual death rate because there are still new cases emerging every day. But if you look at the heavily concentrated area of Wuhan, the death rate is about 2.3%. The death rate from the flu is generally around 0.1%.
So, those people that say it’s no worse than the flu may be living in a bit of a false economy. It’s too soon to say.
Who is at greatest risk for COVID-19 infection?
As with the flu, those at greatest risk serious complications from infection are the elderly, the very young, and those with a compromised immune system. The biggest risk is respiratory failure, often as a result of pneumonia.
How do I know if I have COVID-19?
According the WHO, the most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Others have developed aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. The symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually.
If you unexpectedly develop a fever, you should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Do I need to buy face masks?
If you thought the internet was divisive on politics, you should ask them about face masks! You’ll find emphatic opinions saying they do absolutely nothing. Or they only work if they are N95 masks. Or it’s a conspiracy and the face mask suppliers are gouging everyone (they are!).
If you have any symptoms mentioned above, you should wear the face mask. You know why so many Asians wear them? Because they are courteous enough to not spread their own germs!
If you are going to be in an enclosed, crowded area or if you have any symptoms or if you’re caring for someone with symptoms, you should definitely be wearing a face mask. And if anything, it will encourage you NOT to touch your face, which is how many viruses are spread.
Outside of that, it’s up to you. Will it help? Maybe. Will it hurt? Definitely not.
Just keep in mind that in times of crisis, some products may be in limited supply. The priority for face masks should always be for healthcare providers first. (No hoarding, please!)
Am I going to be trapped in my home for weeks?
My brother was essentially quarantined to his home in China for well over two weeks. It was his choice because that virus was alive and well in his city. He left his home as little as possible. His only visit in that time period was to a large grocery story, which he said was mostly vacant.
On that trip, he wore a mask and wool gloves, and carried a can of Lysol with him. He sprayed the gloves and the shopping cart handles. After leaving the store, he discarded the gloves and used hand sanitizer before heading home.
Note: Lysol has shown to be effective against viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2.
What are my essential supplies for surviving an outbreak?
This is an easy one. Prepare in a similar manner for any emergency:
- Hand sanitizer
- Face masks
- Disposable gloves
- Bottled water
- Shelf stable foods (my brother recommends beans and rice)
That last one is no joke. The worst part of staying homebound is the sheer boredom. My brother has been sending me the most random things he’s found on the internet. So make sure your bill is paid for. You may need entertainment, and lots of it.
Should I cancel my travel plans?
The CDC is making recommendations for travel as it relates to the coronavirus. They have issued warnings and alerts for several countries, mostly in Southeast Asia and in some European countries with outbreaks.
The most important piece of advice is DO NOT TRAVEL IF YOU DON’T FEEL WELL. I know you’ve been planning this big trip and I know you don’t want to lose money. But it’s not worth dying over or spreading something unnecessarily.
If you aren’t living in an affected area, you don’t have any symptoms, and your destination is not currently a risk, you should not change your plans. That said, I can’t say I’d be hopping on a cruise ship any time soon!
Also, be sure you have travel insurance and that your medical insurance provides healthcare coverage when traveling abroad.
Isn’t this all just fearmongering?
There’s a lot of media bias. There’s a lot of, dare I say it, fake news. But the coronavirus is real and is spreading. Keep informed for yourself with the live Coronavirus dashboard from Johns Hopkins (click through for the most up to date information).
If there’s a question you have, let me know and I’m happy to scout out some of the best answers I can find and update this list accordingly. Until then, stay healthy!
Read more about what you need to know from an RN: Coronovirus or COVID-19: Facts You Need to Know
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. But I do have a degree in Biology, have a general understanding of science-y things, and like to create clarity amid confusion.