Updated May 21, 2020
COVID-19 has jumped from an obscure, local outbreak to a global pandemic in a matter of months. Its novel status and fast transmission rate have left many feeling anxious and worried about what the future holds. We break down everything you know about COVID-19 so far and the best ways to protect yourself.
What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a novel coronavirus that was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. There are many different coronaviruses, including the common cold, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) (2). The virus has since spread worldwide and, as of May 21, 2020, has infected over 5,00,000 people. Estimates put the mortality rate between 1-3%, which is much higher than the mortality rate for the flu.
Since this is a new virus, we don't have a complete picture of all of the signs and symptoms of this disease. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include a dry cough, fever, and fatigue; symptoms start appearing on an average of 5-6 days after infection (range is 1-14 days) (1). For most people COVID-19 is a mild illness and they can recover at home without any special treatment. About 1 in 5 COVID-19 cases become serious and require hospitalization (2). Older people and people with underlying health conditions are especially at risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is thought to spread quickly from people who are in close contact with each other (within 6 feet) (3). The WHO states "the disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets" (1). COVID-19 has also been shown to survive on surfaces. One study found that COVID-19 was able to survive on stainless steel, cardboard, and copper for at least 72 hours (5).
How to Stay Safe
If you're in the high-risk category, you should stay home as much as possible and avoid crowds. Everyone else should practice good hygiene techniques, implement social distancing, and wear a face mask when leaving the home.
Washing your hands frequently throughout the day is one of the best ways to stay protected against COVID-19. Normal soap is just as effective in protecting against COVID-19 as antibacterial soap. Make sure you're scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds every time you wash them and to follow this helpful graph from the WHO:
Use hand sanitizer if you're out and don't have access to a sink. Make sure the hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol; a higher alcohol content is better at killing germs. The CDC states: "when using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount) and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry" (6). But remember that hand sanitizer won't work well if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
It's important to use whatever soap or sanitizer is available while you're out and about, but we also like to have some non-toxic options at home. Our non-toxic hand soap roundup, non-toxic hand sanitizer roundup, DIY hand sanitizer guide, and non-toxic hand cream roundup will help keep you protected without the use of harmful ingredients .
Along with person-to-person contact, many counties are also experiencing community spread. Community spread means some people who have gotten COVID-19 aren't sure where or how they were exposed to the virus. During the early stages of the outbreak, it was really important to limit the spread of transmission. By limiting the spread of COVID-19, many places were able to "flatten the curve"... AKA avoid overwhelming healthcare systems to ensure that the sickest patients are able to receive the care they need.
Today, many cities and states are easing restrictions and slowly coming out of shelter in place orders. Although the lockdown is easing up, please make sure to still follow all rules and regulations put in place by your local government or public health official. Check your local government's website for updates about the easing of your stage of shelter in place.
Even if you're not under a shelter in place order, you must practice social distancing. Since this virus is spread through close contact (within 6 feet), putting distance between you and others in your community can stop transmission. You can try social distancing by avoiding supermarkets during peak hours or watching a movie at home instead of going to the theater. Always wear a mask when you're in public.
Are Children More At Risk?
Most of the COVID-19 cases have been seen in adults and it doesn't seem that children are at higher risk of catching the virus. (4) Most children that tested positive for COVID-19 have only had mild symptoms, but there have also been some severe cases and fatalities. Any child over the age of 2 should wear a face mask out in public (4).
What To Do If You're Sick
If you're feeling mildly sick and you're worried you may have COVID-19, stay home and contact your healthcare provider to ask about next steps. Many testing sites are now available to the public. You may be asked to go to a local testing center before seeing your primary care physician. If you're experiencing serious symptoms like shortness of breath, you might want to head to your local ER. Make sure to always wear a face mask in public if you suspect you're sick- this will protect others around you and stop the spread of your illness.
While the outbreak of a new virus is scary, knowledge is power. It's important to stay informed and follow all recommendations from your local healthcare officials. Together we can limit the spread of COVID-19 and help protect the health of our community.
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