The new coronavirus first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide and has infected millions. Those numbers continue to rise, though officials say that restrictive social distancing measures are helping to slow the spread.
WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS? WHAT IS COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
COVID-19 is the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. It is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and had not been previously identified in humans.
The new coronavirus was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 and was declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. The virus' official name is “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019,” or COVID-19. This coronavirus glossary is a good place to familiarize yourself with the relevant terminology.
WHO HAS IT?
Johns Hopkins University has kept a running tally of cases around the world and in the U.S., which has had by far the most confirmed cases.
Here is a look at the latest numbers:
There is still a lot we don’t know about the virus, including whether certain people are more likely than others to catch it and why symptoms vary so widely – from death to breathing problems to temporary anosmia to no symptoms at all – from person to person. Initially it was thought that age was a significant factor; however, the virus itself does not appear to discriminate by age: many young healthy people, children — even household pets — have tested positive. Some have shown symptoms; some have not. It is suspected that many people have had it and don’t know it — testing has been largely unavailable to asymptomatic people in the U.S., and even some people who’ve reported experiencing symptoms were unable to get tested at that time. A study conducted by researchers in Singapore and published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the latest to estimate that around 10% of new coronavirus infections may be sparked by people who were infected with the virus but not experiencing symptoms.
In response to recent studies, the CDC changed how it was defining the risk of infection for Americans. The agency's latest guidance targets people who have no symptoms but were exposed to persons with known or suspected infections. It essentially says that anyone may be a considered a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not.
We do know that the virus spreads easily from person to person; hence, hospital and health care workers are uniquely susceptible to infection, especially those who were unable to acquire needed personal protective equipment (PPE).
Also because of the rapid spread, people who live in crowded institutionalized settings — nursing homes and prisons are two prime examples – are susceptible, as are those workers deemed essential: grocery store and pharmacy employees, emergency personnel, sanitation workers, and more. Those who already struggle with chronic medical conditions also seem to be vulnerable. Geography may be a factor, as a patchwork of regional rules and guidelines means some areas have had more success in slowing the spread. Some parts of the U.S. have not been hit very hard, though as the spread continues, there is plenty of opportunity for it to reach the most remote corners, especially if there is a "second wave" of infections as health experts have warned.
Learn more about:
- Coronavirus’ outsized impact on communities of color
- Whether men are more likely than women to become infected
- Why health care workers on the “front lines” need PPE
- Kids seem to be the least susceptible to symptomatic infection. Here’s what we know about children and the coronavirus.
- Why nursing homes across the U.S. have been overtaken by the virus
- Why prisons and jails are COVID-19 hot zones
HOW DO I GET IT, AND HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE IT?
Here’s what we know about how the virus can spread:
Person to Person: People who are in close contact (within 6 feet) with each other. When the infected person coughs or sneezes, they release respiratory droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of the people nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
Asymptomatic: Thus far people are thought to be contagious when they are the sickest (most symptomatic), but it is possible to spread the virus even in the absence of any symptoms.
Infected Surfaces and Objects: A person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose and eyes, though this is not the main way the virus is spread, according to the CDC. Learn more about how long the virus lasts on different surfaces here.
Community Spread: People have been infected with the virus in the area, including people who are not sure how or where they became infected.
What are the symptoms? A wide range of COVID-19 symptoms has been reported. Initially, health officials said fever, cough and difficulty breathing were the most common symptoms, but since then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its list of the symptoms commonly exhibited by those infected, expanding it to include a new sustained loss of taste or smell, which can sometimes present along with other symptoms or on its own. Other symptoms may include chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache or sore throat.
And health care workers seeing COVID-19 patients have reported seeing symptoms that may or may not be signs of COVID-19 infection, including: blood clots, which sometimes appear to lead to strokes; lesion-like skin rashes, mostly seen on feet and toes; and intestinal distress, including vomiting and diarrhea.
The list of possible symptoms may continue to expand.
A test is required to determine whether someone has been infected; testing availability still varies widely from region to region.
Here’s what we know about testing: The availability of coronavirus tests in the United States is changing rapidly and may depend on where you live. Learn more about how coronavirus testing varies by country and state here. An analysis from the Associated Press found that most states are not meeting the minimum levels of testing suggested by the federal government and recommended by public health researchers, even as some begin to reopen their economies, so you should check state-specific information before seeking to get yourself or a loved one tested.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I GET IT?
Here is what you can do if you think you or a loved one is showing signs of Covid:
Stay at Home Unless Medical Care Is Needed: Those with a mild form of the virus are able to isolate at home during the illness. They should restrict all outdoor activities except for medical care. This includes avoiding public areas or going to work or school. Refrain from using public transportation, ride-sharing services or taxis, the CDC says.
Call Ahead Before Visiting a Doctor: If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. This will help the health care provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mild symptoms, the person should self-quarantine in the home to minimize the spread.
How to Self-Quarantine: Stay away from other people in the home as much as possible. Stay in a specific room and, if available, a separate bathroom. Avoid sharing drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other people in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
Restrict contact with pets and animals while you have the virus. Initially, experts did not think household pets were susceptible to infection, but there since have been confirmed reports of pets or animals becoming sick with the coronavirus, and it is recommended that people with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known of the virus. If caring for a pet while you have the virus, wash your hands before and after all interactions and wear a face mask.
Monitor symptoms: Seek medical care if the illness is worsening. People who are actively monitored or are self-monitoring should follow instructions provided by health professionals.
Is There a Coronavirus Vaccine? Global efforts are underway to develop a vaccine for the virus, but experts have cautioned it could take over a year to have one ready. A new undertaking from the White House, a public-private partnership dubbed "Operation Warp Speed," is aiming to get a COVID-19 vaccine out to the public by January. Meanwhile, British scientists are also working to develop a potential vaccine, with one official telling "Meet the Press" they hope to see a “signal” as to whether their vaccine candidate is working by June.
What treatments are available to ameliorate symptoms or help infected people fight the virus?
Remdesivir: Regulators have allowed emergency use of remdesivir, the first drug that appears to help some COVID-19 patients recover faster, a milestone in the global search for effective therapies against the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration said in a statement that Gilead Science’s intravenous drug would be specifically indicated for hospitalized patients with “severe disease,” such as those experiencing breathing problems requiring supplemental oxygen or ventilators. The FDA acted after preliminary results from a government-sponsored study showed that the drug shortened the time to recovery by 31%, or about four days on average, for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Those given the drug were able to leave the hospital in 11 days on average vs. 15 days for the comparison group. The drug may also help avert deaths, but the effect is not yet large enough for scientists to know for sure.
What about hydroxychloroquine? The FDA previously allowed narrow use of a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, for hospitalized patients who were unable to take part in ongoing studies of the medication. Trump repeatedly promoted it as a possible COVID-19 treatment, but no large high-quality studies have shown the drug works for that, and it has significant safety concerns. The FDA warned doctors against prescribing the drug outside of hospital or research settings, due to risks of sometimes fatal heart side effects. Two small studies add to concerns about the malaria drug. Critically ill COVID-19 patients given hydroxychloroquine were prone to heart rhythm problems, and for many risks mounted when it was combined with an antibiotic, the studies found.
HOW DO I AVOID IT?
Social Distancing: A number of U.S. states ordered "non-essential businesses" to close or restrict their services in order to limit the coronavirus' spread by enforcing social distancing.
Social distancing will save lives, but it can also start to feel pretty isolating. Here are five ways to stay social while social distancing:
Wash Your Hands and Sanitize Surfaces: One of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus is by washing your hands with soap and water. The CDC recommends first washing with warm or cold water and then lathering soap for 20 seconds to get it on the backs of hands, between fingers and under fingernails before rinsing off. If soap and water are not available, clean hands with an alcohol-based (at least 60% alcohol) hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. If someone in the household is infected, surfaces like counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathrooms fixture, toilets, phone keyboards, tablets and bedside tables should be cleaned daily and thoroughly with a household cleaning spray or wipe.
- You should wash your phone, too. Here’s how.
- You should also take care to clean your vehicle -- here's how.
Gloves: Gloves are not a substitute for hand hygiene. Wash hands before and after donning gloves and follow the CDC’s guidelines on proper glove disposal.
Wear a Face Covering: The CDC recommends that cloth masks fit snugly but comfortably, are secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction, can be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.
"Individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their face covering and wash hands immediately after removing," the CDC says.
Here are instructions for sewing your own mask or making a no-sew version -- using a bandana and coffee filter.
More Face Mask Tips
WHY CAN’T I LEAVE MY HOUSE, i.e. WHAT CAN’T I DO?
- Which states are reopening? Here’s where coronavirus lockdowns stand.
- Here's a running list of high-profile concerts, festivals, and tourist attractions that have been closed, canceled or rescheduled to minimize the virus' spread.
- Here's a list of sporting events affected by the coronavirus.
- When will school open? Here’s a state-by-state list.
- Should you see your doctor or take kids to the pediatrician during the pandemic?
- Find out what to do if you can't make your rent or mortgage payments because of the coronavirus pandemic.
OK, WHAT CAN I DO?
- Work from home: Here are tips for effectively working from home when you have kids.
- Look for work: These companies are hiring right now.
- Graduating into this job market? Here's what every college senior should be doing now.
- Exercise: How to run outside safely during the coronavirus pandemic
- Keep kids entertained with these free and low-cost activities for kids to do at home.
- Stay entertained: Here's what to binge while you’re stuck at home.
- Clean house: Here are some tips on how to do spring cleaning right during the coronavirus.
- Grocery shopping: Here's what to buy in case of self-quarantine, and here's a list of 10 tips for safe shopping during the pandemic.
- Slow internet? No internet? Broadband help for families during virus crisis
- Screen time: Why experts say screen time during quarantine is OK
- Shopping: Companies offer deals, discounts and freebies amid coronavirus pandemic
- How to keep your health insurance if you're furloughed or laid off
For the latest information, check out the CDC's website, as well as the World Health Organization's site. State and city governments are also sharing phone numbers for local hotlines and other resources. Follow all our coronavirus coverage here.
Danielle Abreu, Sevanny Campos and other staff contributed to this report.