There is no shortage of news about the coronavirus pandemic. But how do you know which information to trust? Our clinicians answer the most common questions.
What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are actually a group of viruses that cause breathing problems in people and animals. Different strains can cause everything from the common cold to the SARS and MERS outbreaks in recent years. The new coronavirus that’s caused the COVID-19 pandemic is called SARS-CoV-2.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus. COVID-19 stands for COronaVIrus Disease 2019, the year the outbreak started.
How does coronavirus spread?
The new coronavirus spreads easily. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets go out into the air. If the droplets land in someone’s mouth or nose, that person can get infected, too. The virus is more likely to spread when people are less than 6 feet away from each other.
You could also get infected if you touch something where droplets from a sneeze or cough have landed and then touch your face, eyes, mouth, or nose. But this is less common. The virus can live for 3 days on some surfaces, and possibly longer. Some research shows it can remain in the air for 3 hours.
Some people get COVID-19 through community spread. This is when someone is infected with the coronavirus and they aren’t sure how or where they became exposed. These people haven’t been to affected countries or spent time with people who are sick.
What are the main symptoms of COVID-19 infection?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Shortness of breath
Some people have reported other symptoms like stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, headaches, and feeling tired or achy. It can be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of every symptom, because cold viruses, flu viruses, and seasonal allergies can affect people at the same time as the new coronavirus.
Call 911 if you have trouble breathing, or chest pain or pressure.
Who is most at risk for COVID-19?
There’s still a lot doctors don’t know about COVID-19. For now, the people who seem to have the highest risk of getting very sick or dying from it are adults over 60 and people with serious or long-term medical problems like heart disease, diabetes, or lung problems.
Younger people are also at risk. A recent report found that nearly 40 percent of people sick enough with COVID-19 to be in the hospital were age 20 to 54. Doctors are also finding the virus in children in some parts of the US. Still, the risk of dying from the virus is much higher in older people.
How is coronavirus screening different from coronavirus testing?
Screening finds people who may be at risk for a disease but who don’t yet have symptoms. In the early days of the COVID-19 epidemic, checking travelers for possible fever was a way of screening. Screening also can be done before someone gets on a plane. Sometimes, people returning home are asked to fill out a short questionnaire about places they have traveled to and any symptoms that may be present.
Diagnostic testing finds out if a person has a disease. A doctor may order a coronavirus test for someone who has been exposed to the virus or for someone who shows symptoms. The CDC’s coronavirus test involves getting a sample of fluid or mucus from your nose, mouth, throat, or lungs.
Where can I find the best info on COVID-19?
A lot of information is floating around on TV and the internet, and some of it may not be true. It also seems to change every minute. Here are some of the most reliable and up-to date sources:
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.coronavirus.gov
- World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
- Local or state health departments can also provide helpful information. https://www.cdc.gov/publichealthgateway/healthdirectories/healthdepartments.html
Will face masks or disposable gloves protect me against coronavirus?
Face masks or gloves won’t stop you from getting sick with COVID-19. Only wear a face mask if:
- You’re healthy and caring for someone who’s sick or who may have COVID-19, but can’t wear a mask themselves
- You’re coughing and sneezing and must be around other people – for example, if you’re in a doctor’s waiting room or in a shared room at home
Face masks and gloves are in short supply right now. Save them for doctors and other caregivers. And remember: You still need to wash your hands often, even if you’re wearing a mask.
Which works better for fighting the virus – regular soap or antibacterial soap?
Both types of soap will clean your hands to help prevent COVID-19. Antibacterial soap doesn’t work better though. Antibacterial soaps may help kill bacteria, but they won’t work against viruses like the new coronavirus.
What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to the coronavirus?
DON’T go straight to the doctor, ER, or walk-in clinic. You could make others sick. Instead, call your doctor if:
- You think you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus
- You’ve been around someone who is sick with COVID-19
- You have a fever, cough, or trouble breathing
Your doctor will decide if you need testing or if you can care for yourself at home (self-quarantine).
If you have mild symptoms, call your doctor early if you are over 60 or have serious or long-term health problems like heart disease, diabetes, or lung problems. Your risk of serious complications from COVID-19 is much higher.
How do I get tested for the coronavirus?
CDC-approved tests are available in all US states. Call your doctor’s office if you think you’ve been exposed or you have symptoms. They’ll decide if you need a test and let you know where and how to get one. The test could involve swabbing your nose, mouth, or throat, or by getting a sample of mucus or phlegm from your lungs.
What should I do if I have to work from home for a while?
Working from home can feel strange and stressful if you’re not used to it. Try these tips:
- Dress just like any normal workday.
- Set up your work space – ideally, a separate room where you can close the door. If that’s not possible, even a folding table and chair in a quiet corner will do.
- Stick to your usual work hours. Don’t sleep in or work extra late at night.
- Set goalsfor the day or week to help stay focused.
- Eat healthy meals and snacks. Don’t raid the refrigerator or pantry for junk food – it can raise your risk for getting sick.
- Check inwith coworkers regularly. Motivate each other!
- Limit distractions. Don’t let a sink full of dishes or a pile of laundry – or even a post on Instagram – take you away from your job. Set aside specific breaks in your day for chores, and save social media for after work.
Can coronavirus be passed from a mother to her baby during birth?
Doctors don’t know for sure. In one study, babies whose mothers had COVID-19 did not have the virus at birth, and the virus wasn’t found in their mothers’ breastmilk. But doctors still need to learn more. If you’re pregnant, take the same steps as others to avoid getting infected.
Is there a coronavirus vaccine yet?
No. Researchers are working hard to make one, but it takes time to develop a vaccine and test it properly. The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus.
Are there any treatments yet for COVID-19?
Right now, doctors can only treat symptoms of COVID-19. Scientists are working hard to find and test drugs that can safely kill the virus.
All the COVID-19 news is making me crazy! What can I do to stress less?
It’s normal to feel scared and worried right now, especially if you or a loved one is at high risk for problems from COVID-19. But anxiety will only make things worse. These tips can help:
- Don’t watch or listen to the news 24/7. It can be confusing and upsetting. Take breaks from the internet!
- Take care of your body. Meditate, practice deep breathing,go for a walk. If you can, get out into nature. Avoid public parks and crowded areas.
- Try to eat healthy meals and snacks.
- Get regular exercise. There are plenty of exercises you can do at home with little to no equipment. Some yoga and fitness groups are offering online classes, so check in your area.
- Set a regular bedtime and practice good sleep habits.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs.
- Stay connected to friends, family and your community.
What can I do to lower my risk of COVID-19?
- Wash your hands often with soap and running water. Wash for at least 20 seconds, especially after you’ve been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you aren’t near running water and soap. If your hands are really dirty or grimy, wipe them off first.
- Stay away from people who are sick.
- Cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue, or use the inside of your elbow. Throw used tissues away and wash your hands.
- Try not to touch your face.
- Try not to touch door handles, stair rails, and other things out in public. Wash your hands afterward if you do.
- Avoid crowds. Many states and communities are closing or banning large gatherings until the infection rates slow down.
- Keep your distance. Try to stay at least 6 feet away from others.
- Stay home if you’re sick to help stop the spread.
- Clean and disinfect often-touched surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, phones, keyboards, TV remotes, faucets, sinks, countertops, drawer handles.
Can I get COVID-19 from my pet, or could I give it to them?
If you have COVID-19, it’s a good idea to limit contact with your pets until scientists know more about whether animals can get the virus. Find a family member or friend to care for your pet if you’re sick or in quarantine.
If that’s not an option, wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after you handle your pet. Right now, there’s no evidence that pets in the US can spread the virus to people.
The shelves in my grocery store are bare! What do I really need to stock up on, and what can I do without?
Don’t panic-shop! Remember you’re stocking up in case you have to stay home for a while, not in case you lose power.
What you DO need:
- At least a 1-month supply of prescription medicines
- Personal-care items: hand soap and sanitizer, shower gel, shaving cream, pads or tampons, toilet paper
- Household cleaning and laundry supplies
- Cash for a week
- Gas for all your vehicles
- Pet food
- Nonperishable foods and staples for everyone in your family, such as canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, baking mixes, baby food, shelf-stable milk or milk alternatives
- Emergency action plan if you or a loved one gets sick. Have a list of nearby contacts who can help.
What you DON’T need:
- Bottled water. This is a pandemic, not a hurricane. It’s very unlikely that your water will go out.
- Junk foods. Sugary sweets wear down your immunity and make it easier to get sick.
- Face masks. They won’t stop you from getting COVID-19.
- Every last roll of toilet paper in the store. Don’t hoard. SHARE.