Quick disclaimer: COVID-19 is such a new illness that there’s still ongoing research and investigation into the exact details of it. Here’s the info that experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shared so far, but our knowledge of COVID-19 is constantly evolving. Stay up to date through their websites (linked above) and check this page for ongoing updates.
What Is a Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of respiratory viruses (viruses that affect breathing) that evolve to infect both animals and humans. The coronavirus that you’ve been hearing about is officially called COVID-19, a new type of coronavirus that hasn’t previously been seen in humans.
What Are the Symptoms?
According to the WHO, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. More severe symptoms include aches, pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, and diarrhea. Some people may even test positive for COVID-19 but show no symptoms at all.
How Does It Spread?
Experts are still trying to determine with certainty how COVID-19 spreads. What they know for certain is that it spreads from person to person, and they believe it may be spread through tiny droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes.
The hypothesis is that these droplets may land either directly on other people or on surrounding surfaces, and touching your face after touching one of these surfaces could cause infection. We still don’t know where in the timeline of the illness that a person becomes infectious, or how long droplets are considered infectious once they reach a surface.
How Serious Is It?
According to the WHO, 80% of people recover from COVID-19 without needing special treatment. Those most at risk for developing severe symptoms are older people and people with severe illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.
What everybody wants to know is how deadly it is, but that’s also info that we just don’t know for certain yet. Although the current crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%, the true mortality rate of COVID-19 may actually be lower because folks with milder symptoms who don’t seek medical help go largely underreported. The crude mortality ratios also vary by country, with the lowest in South Korea at 0.6%, so take these numbers with a grain of salt.
Has This Happened Before?
Yes, coronavirus outbreaks have happened before: SARS-CoV in 2002 and MERS-CoV in 2012. The former had a crude mortality ratio of about 7%, and the latter of about 33%, and both were contained within a few months.
Some people are comparing COVID-19 to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which was thought to be the deadliest in human history. This outbreak is actually a lot different because COVID-19 isn’t spread as easily as the Spanish flu, and it severely affects a smaller population of people. Plus, we’ve made A LOT of medical and scientific advancements in 100 years.
How Far Has It Spread?
Of those, over 5,700 people have contracted COVID-19 in the US, with the largest concentrations along the east and west coasts.
Is Everything Shutting Down?
As of right now, no, not everything, and definitely not everywhere — but there are some measures in place to try and keep people healthy and safe.
Speaking to the nation as a whole, President Trump advised that gatherings be limited to 10 people or fewer. He and his task force also issued guidelines to close schools and avoid bars, restaurants, and food courts for the next 15 days.
In the Bay Area of California (where more than 290 people have contracted COVID-19), seven counties have shut down all but essential businesses, like fire stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks.
Major cities like New York City, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles are putting restrictions on bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, and other nonessential businesses and gatherings.
And What About Schools?
Schools across the country are shutting down following the new guidelines from President Trump. Some are announcing short-term closures, while others expect to be closed for much longer.
This is a major concern for the thousands of students who rely on their schools for warm meals and other social services.
Several colleges and universities are also closing their doors for the semester, leaving thousands of students displaced and facing financial challenges.
What Travel Restrictions Are In Place?
In the US, the CDC has issued some guidance for travellers based on risk assessments for different countries, and while the Trump administration has advised against discretionary travel, there is currently no travel ban in place for US residents.
However, there are restrictions on travellers coming into the country. The federal government is barring foreign nationals from China and Iran from entering the country, as well as restricting travel from several European countries.
Other countries are also taking measures to fight the spread of the virus. Italy has already placed nationwide restrictions on movement both inside and out of the country, and the European Union is likely to shut down external borders for at least 30 days.
How Will This Affect the Economy?
Aside from the health concerns, COVID-19 also has the potential to hugely impact global economies. Some experts are warning of a potential recession because of the way the outbreak is affecting supply and demand.
Not only has the stock market been suffering, factories and businesses are having to close their doors due to both illness and fear of it.
Folks are avoiding everything from sporting events to dentist appointments, and a lot of industries are going to take a hit — and the employees who rely on them for their wages.
Most vulnerable are low-wage, hourly, seasonal, and gig workers, who are the most likely to lose wages and the least likely to have healthcare or paid sick leave (meaning that they also have a greater risk of infection).
Should I Be Panicking?
A lot of people are worried about the COVID-19 outbreak, and while it’s understandable to have these concerns, fear can lead people to make decisions that put others at risk.
What’s Being Done About It?
The good news is, there are also plenty of people around the world who are working tirelessly to help those impacted by COVID-19.
The moving company U-Haul is offering help to college students ordered to go home because of on-campus coronavirus concerns.
Scholastic has created a free, digital hub of educational resources for students whose learning has been disrupted by COVID-19, and the video-conferencing software Zoom is giving free accounts to K-12 schools that are moving to online instruction.
There are also folks worldwide donating towards coronavirus relief efforts, including members of the BTS ARMY.
The House of Representatives has passed bipartisan emergency legislation to provide coronavirus relief, including paid emergency leave and free testing for COVID-19. The bill has since been passed on to the Senate, where some Senators are expressing doubt over its approval.
A new coronavirus relief package with further economic stimulus is being considered by legislators and White House administrators.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Take Care of Yourself
- Keep your distance. Social distancing limits when and where people gather to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases. These kinds of measures are necessary to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases and deaths (slowing the exponential spread to a more manageable rate over a longer period of time). If that’s confusing, check out these helpful graphs to get a better idea of how social distancing can save lives.
It’s important to social distance even if your individual risk seems low because those around you with higher risks can still acquire it. Avoid physical contact with others, and maintain a distance of at least six feet, if possible. Here’s some more info about social distancing, isolation, and quarantine.
Stay healthy. The #1 thing you can do for yourself and for others is to stay healthy. Know the basics, like regularly washing your hands, cleaning the surfaces around you, and avoiding touching your face. Get more info here.
Get prepared. We don’t know what will happen next with the coronavirus outbreak, but it never hurts to have a plan in place. The CDC has detailed advice for getting your household prepared.
Stay updated. For the most up-to-date, verified information on COVID-19, monitor updates from the CDC and WHO. Guidance will also depend on where you live, so find your state’s health department, and follow their local updates on the situation as well.
Minimize panic and anxiety. Remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious about everything happening right now, follow this guide to coping with coronavirus anxiety.
Anxious about the coronavirus or being quarantined in a situation that feels unsafe? The Crisis Text Line is here to help you cope. Text SUPPORT to 741741.
- Help others maintain social distance. Share your tips on how you’re practicing social distancing, as well as a photo of you at home to show other DoSomething members that they’re not in this alone!
Fight xenophobia and racism. Share this video from the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice’s “Stop the Spread” campaign, and learn how to have conversations about the racism and xenophobia that COVID-19 brings up.
Reach out to the most vulnerable. Older people and people with severe medical conditions are most at risk during the outbreak, so they’ll probably be spending a lot of time at home. Check in with grandparents, friends, and neighbors (over a call or text) to help them combat social isolation.
Donate blood. According to the American Red Cross, blood donations are urgently needed right now. As confirmed cases increase, the amount of healthy donors decreases. If you’re eligible, make an appointment to donate blood in your community.
Help out financially. A lot of people will be impacted by COVID-19, whether physically or financially. Share these coronavirus relief funds from GlobalGiving and Global Impact to help provide needed medical supplies, public health support, and more. Make sure your community has the resources they need too by donating to your local food bank or homeless shelter.