Skip to main content

Top 10 Things You Need to Know about the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

1. What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which is transmitted between humans and currently circulating in over 100 countries around the world. Currently, there are more than 9,295,365 cases and more than 478,289 deaths worldwide (see updated cases and deaths here). Over the last several days, there have been more cases occurring outside China than within the country.

In the United States, there are more than 2,348,956 cases and at least 121,279 deaths (see updated cases and deaths here) with 50 states, the District of Columbia and  U.S. territories reporting cases. While most cases are travel-related or involve persons repatriated to the United States, an increasing number of these cases represent person-to-person spread, particularly in Washington state and California.

2. How does it spread?

The coronavirus spreads through droplets released most commonly from a sneeze or a cough. Additionally, it may be transmitted by touching contaminated objects, like a table or door handle, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. In general, exposure to individuals with significant symptoms in close-proximity over an extended period of time increases the chances of exposure to COVID-19. There have been reports of asymptomatic spread of the virus and this is an active area of investigation by health officials.

3. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever, and a headache. Health officials say that in more than 80% of cases, symptoms will be mild, and individuals will be able to self-manage at home as if they were treating a common cold or the flu. In the rest of the cases, symptoms may progress potentially resulting in shortness of breath and worsening cough and require medical intervention.

4. Who is at highest risk for severe complications?

At this time, it appears that individuals who are elderly and who have chronic conditions, such as heart disease or lung disease, are at highest risk for severe complications and deaths. People with compromised immune systems, such as someone going through cancer treatments, are also at higher risk for infection if exposed.

5. What is the fatality rate?

The current fatality rate has been estimated to be as high as 3.4%. However, it is widely considered that the number of cases is significantly higher due to asymptomatic cases or mildly symptomatic individuals who never received a medical evaluation and testing. Thus, it is quite likely that the true fatality rate is significantly lower. Some experts believe that the true mortality rate associated with COVID-19 may be considerably less than 1%. For comparison, the case fatality rate for seasonal influenza is approximately 0.1%.

6. What can I do to protect myself?

First, it’s important not to panic but arm yourself with facts about the disease so you can make smart decisions. It is critical that all Americans practice good hand hygiene, which includes washing hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and water. If this is not possible, then using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good idea. This is especially important before and after entering large group settings. It is also recommended to refrain from touching your nose, mouth, or eyes as much as possible or use a tissue, and substitute handshakes for another greeting. Social distancing—standing about a 6-foot radius from others—is another measure that may be considered based on your circumstances, especially around a sick person. If you have symptoms of coronavirus—or any respiratory illness, for that matter—it is critical to isolate yourself as much as possible and reduce exposing others. You should discuss sick leave and telework policies with your employers so that you can reduce your and others’ risk of exposure.

Currently, it is not necessary to stockpile masks or for those who are healthy to wear them in public as a precaution. Traditional face masks do not effectively protect against airborne viruses; they are essential only if someone has symptoms so that they can prevent exposure to others. It is a good idea to have a 30- or 90-day supply of medications at home for you and your loved ones; individuals may need to contact their health care professionals, insurance companies or pharmacy benefit managers to make this happen.

Watch this CDC video for more:

7. Is there a test to detect the virus and a treatment or vaccine?

There is a test to detect the virus, however it is still in the process of being disseminated to public health labs across the country. Many larger hospitals and commercial laboratories have received the green light from the Food and Drug Administration to devise laboratory tests on their own. Testing will be ramped up in the coming days and weeks to provide a clearer picture of the true spread of the virus in the United States. In the interim, individuals with symptoms consistent with coronavirus should first contact their usual source of care for medical guidance.

Up until recently, testing criteria focused on individuals with fever and respiratory symptoms who have recently traveled from countries such as China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Japan or who have had close contact with someone infected with COVID-19 over the last fourteen days or hospitalized individuals that are sick, often with pneumonia, with undetermined exposure. Since this testing criteria does not likely capture everyone with the illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now expanded testing criteria to include anyone who a medical professional believes warrants a laboratory test.

There is no treatment for COVID-19 as of yet, although there are a number of ongoing clinical trials with various antiviral medications to see if they might have an effect on the disease. Vaccine development is underway, and trials will commence in the spring, focusing on safety and effectiveness first. Vaccine development, scaling manufacturing, and distribution of the vaccine to Americans will take at least a year.

8. If there’s an outbreak in my community what steps may be taken by local authorities, schools and businesses?

If there is community transmission of COVID-19, authorities will consider a range of non-pharmacologic interventions to mitigate the spread of disease. This may include closures of schools, guidance to businesses to employ telework practices, and cancellations of mass gatherings. It will be important to pay attention to guidance from local public health authorities.

This map offers helpful information on coronavirus in each state and what actions states are taking:

9. Will the virus go away when the weather gets warmer like the seasonal flu?

We don’t yet know whether the virus will dissipate when the weather gets warmer. Even if it does, it is likely that it may come back in the fall and winter months.

10. What travel restrictions currently exist?

CDC recommends that travelers should avoid all nonessential travel at this time to China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy. CDC recommends that older adults and those with chronic conditions consider postponing travel to Japan.

Visit the CDC’s website for more information.

Read Next