Frankly, the volume of information about COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) coming out daily is overwhelming. Things are changing – and changing quickly. In an effort to stymie the “infodemic” and keep you in-the-know, we’ve aggregated information from leading public health organizations, medical centers and Kinsa’s team of licensed clinicians.
Here are your coronavirus basics (with some myth-busting mixed in).
Read: Why is it sometimes called “COVID-19”? Why is it sometimes called “coronavirus”?
When you hear a reporter using the two terms on the nightly news, you can assume they’re referring to the same thing – a new respiratory illness that can spread from person-to-person. If you’re reading a scientific paper or reading content from a public health organization like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they’ll almost exclusively refer to the disease as COVID-19. This is because coronaviruses are actually a type of virus characterized by tiny spikes that look like little crowns. You’re probably already well-acquainted with one – the coronavirus that causes many common colds.
COVID-19 is the name of the disease that is caused by a new coronavirus that first appeared in late 2019.
We’ll refer to the illness as COVID-19 here.
Less common symptoms:
The primary way the virus spreads is via respiratory droplets when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Droplets from a cough or sneeze can travel up to 6 feet and land in the mouth or nose of a healthy passerby. If that passerby then inhales, the virus can travel to the lungs.
A less common way the virus spreads is via contaminated surfaces. If the virus is living on a surface and a person touches that surface, then touches their eyes, nose or mouth and inhales, the virus can travel to the lungs.
Myth-buster: There is currently no evidence to suggest the virus is spread via food. If you’re worried about swallowing the virus (say, via takeout dinner) and contracting COVID-19 the same way you would a stomach bug, rest easy. The viral structure of the new coronavirus is relatively weak, which means the harsh conditions in your digestive tract will destroy it.
This is a big deal. The CDC currently estimates that the fatality rate of COVID-19 is between .25 and 3%. On the low end, that’s 2.5x the fatality rate of the seasonal flu. On the high end, that’s 30x the fatality rate of seasonal flu. The disease is particularly deadly for our elderly (65+) and people with chronic conditions. Because the disease is so new, there is currently no antiviral to mitigate serious symptoms or vaccine to prevent infection.
Here’s the good news: we are not powerless. While much is still unknown, we know that the primary way the virus spreads is person-to-person. With this knowledge, the formula for slowing the spread of the virus becomes much simpler: limit person-to-person interaction.
We’ll go into more detail about additional preventative measures we can collectively take to slow the spread of the virus, but the short answer to this question is:
Set aside worry, know what productive action you can take and take those actions – every day.
Any preventative action you take now directly contributes to improving quality of care for the already-ill and, ultimately, saving lives. For every preventative action you take, our San Francisco and Portland public health teams salute you.
Blake Wageman, RN, BSN has over 11 years of nursing under her belt, primarily focused on NICU babies and, just as importantly, their worried parents.