Editor's note: This article was updated on April 30, 2020.
There is a lot of confusion about COVID-19, aka the novel coronavirus. The CDC, NIH, and WHO remain the most trusted sources of knowledge on this virus, and you can refer to their websites here, here, and here. We’ve relied on these and other trusted sources to provide answers to some of the questions you’ve asked:
Q: When will this be over in the US?
A: We don’t know. Some respiratory illnesses (like the flu) tend to thrive in colder seasons. But we don’t know yet whether temperature and weather impact the spread of COVID-19. One top health official says major disruption from the outbreak could last several weeks or more, adding that it’s “impossible to make an accurate prediction.”
President Trump recently laid out a plan for states to reopen. But this plan is more like a list of suggested guidelines for governors. And he said he’ll let governors make the call on when to reopen. The measures he's proposing is a phased approach that should kick in after states start seeing a decline in cases for 14 days. Here’s what that looks like.
Q: How are other countries handling this?
A: A variety of ways: Millions were under lockdown in Wuhan, China – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak – for 76 days. But China lifted the lockdown in early April allowing healthy people to travel in and out of the city. The government’s response included a near halt to the economy, isolating those with mild infections, and quarantining those who had contact with them. Since then, the number of new infections the government reports each day has slowed – though some have cast doubt on the accuracy of those figures, and note that infections could reemerge.
South Korea, meanwhile, has reportedly only quarantined a few thousand people. But it’s been a pioneer in drive-thrus, allowing it to quickly test tens of thousands of people in a way that lowers the chances of the virus spreading (because staying in your car = less contact with people compared to going to a doctor’s office). In Italy, where there’s more than 203,000 confirmed cases and the entire country is on lockdown, hospitals are overburdened. Other countries including India, the UK, and Spain have also ordered nationwide lockdowns. And British PM Boris Johnson tested positive and was later admitted to the hospital for COVID-19, making him one of the first world leaders to be diagnosed with the disease.
It’s still too early to tell if countries have successfully contained the virus, and whether tactics abroad would work in the US. But one concern has been over the weeks-long delay in rolling out testing in the US. But the FDA just approved a test that provides results in as little as two minutes. The company that created it reportedly said it's ready to "have millions of test kits" in dozens of states by mid-April and is working with federal agencies on distribution. But Republican and Democratic governors are saying access to testing is far below what's needed to loosen coronavirus restrictions and reopen the economy.
Q: What do you do if you think you have it?
A: If you have mild cough or fever symptoms, stay home. If you live with other people, stay away from them as much as possible, try as best you can to disinfect your space, and don’t share items like dishes, cups, and towels. Staying home means self-isolating. Do not go to public spaces. Do not use public transit. Wash your hands. If your symptoms get worse (like difficulty breathing), call your doctor.
Q: Can you get it more than once?
A: The WHO says there's "currently no evidence" that people who've had the virus (and developed antibodies) won't be reinfected. As some countries were considering using antibody tests to give people “immunity passports,” the agency warned that some of these tests show false positives – adding to the uncertainty surrounding testing accuracy.
Q: I’m pregnant. Should I take different precautions?
A: We still don’t know whether pregnant women are more susceptible to COVID-19. Or whether fetuses and newborns are particularly at risk. In the few cases where infected mothers gave birth, the infants tested negative for COVID-19. And the virus wasn’t found in samples of breastmilk. Pregnant women should take the same steps as everyone else: wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, stay away from people who are sick.
Q: As a young person, should I avoid my older relatives?
A: Use your best judgement. Younger people are just as likely to be infected by the coronavirus. The difference is that those 60 years old and up (and those with underlying health problems) are more likely to get seriously sick from it. If you aren’t feeling well or are showing symptoms, stay away from older relatives. But you don’t have to cut off all communication – give them a call and ask if you can help them out (think: bringing them food, picking up medications). Isolation can be dangerous to older people’s health. If you’re feeling ok and think it’s safe to be around older people, you may want to practice social distancing. The CDC recommends staying about six feet away from people to avoid spreading germs.
Q: Should I cancel my domestic trips?
A: Recently, the CDC advised people living in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut to avoid domestic travel for 14 days. For those 60 and older – and those with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease – the CDC recommends against nonessential travel. In general, the WHO makes clear that ventilation on airplanes is not usually the concern. But traveling in any close quarters with passengers who may be sick, or touching potentially contaminated surfaces like trays, carries a risk of contracting and spreading certain diseases. Here are some things to consider before traveling within the US.
Q: How is the food industry handling this?
A: There’s no current evidence associating food with the spread of coronavirus. In general, the restaurant industry has to follow strict local public health guidelines at all times. Right now, the National Restaurant Association is advising restaurants to clean and disinfect objects and surfaces and make sure employees who are sick stay home. In some cases, restaurants are making adjustments due to the coronavirus. Starbucks and McDonald's have implemented new cleanliness measures (think: more frequent cleaning and sanitizing, and asking employees to wash their hands more often). In New York, the governor ordered all restaurants to limit their service to take-out or delivery to limit the spread of COVID-19
Q: How can we help people in need?
A: You can start with your neighbors. Check on them by calling, texting, or sending a letter. The CDC recommends things like safely dropping off food (like for a neighbor under quarantine). You can also donate to food banks. And you can donate blood. The American Red Cross is urging eligible people to donate to avoid potential shortages. Help your local restaurants by buying gift cards for yourself (you may be able to do it online). Businesses will be able to keep bringing in revenue and you can save the meal for another day. People experiencing homelessness may also need a helping hand. This community can’t follow stay-at-home orders and are more likely to have underlying health conditions that could make them more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Try reaching out to your local shelter and see if they need any donations.
Q: Should I worry about the stock market?
A: Things have been extra volatile lately, and there’s no way to know for sure what stocks will do next. In the past, the US market’s always recovered. And kept climbing. If you were already planning to invest for the long-term (think: years or even decades), try to keep calm and carry on with your regular investing strategy. And maybe accidentally lose the password to your retirement account so you aren’t constantly checking up on it. Read more answers to your coronavirus and money questions here.
Q: How did we even get to this point?
A: We answer how the virus started and spread here.
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