Updated: Mar 21, 2020
What Is This New Virus?
The new pathogen is part of a large family of viruses known as coronaviruses. (Under a microscope, these viruses look like they have a crown, or corona in Spanish.) The virus official name was announced on Feb 11 as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease caused by this new virus has another name, announced by the WHO: coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Coronaviruses are very common in animals, and many strains affect humans, which causes mild conditions such as common cold.
Many of the first cases of the disease were linked to large seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China.
How Does This Coronavirus Spread?
Respiratory viruses can vary greatly in terms of how quickly they spread.
Though the first cases of the new coronavirus seem to have spread from animals to people, the virus can also spread from person to person. As a respiratory virus, the coronavirus is likely to spread in air droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. That means people within 5 or 6 feet of an infected person would be the most likely to get sick. Some respiratory viruses, including others in the coronavirus family, are known to spread when people touch a surface contaminated with infectious droplets, then touch their own nose, mouth, or eyes.
People who get COVID-19 appear to get sick in a time frame of a couple of days to two weeks after being exposed. At present, there’s no reason to think the pathogen could be transmitted through food or via consumer goods. Other coronaviruses similar to the new one don't last very long on surfaces, said the CDC, which means transmission via a surfaces after days or weeks would be highly unlikely. “There is no evidence to support transmission of 2019-nCoV associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of 2019-nCoV in the United States associated with imported goods,” according to the CDC.
What Are the Symptoms?
There are a wide range of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. In most cases, people have had a fever and cough. In the more severe cases, people have developed pneumonia. In a small percentage of cases, the disease has been fatal.
Most people who fall ill recover within two weeks. People with more severe cases generally recover in three to six weeks.
According to a WHO report on COVID-19, these are the typical symptoms based on 55,924 laboratory confirmed cases in China.
Dry cough (67.7%)
Sputum production (33.4%) (a mixture of saliva and mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract) Shortness of breath (18.6%)
Sore throat (13.9%)
Joint pain (14.8%)
Nausea or vomiting (5.0%)
Nasal congestion (4.8%)
Hemoptysis (0.9%) (coughing up of blood or blood-stained mucus from the bronchi, larynx, trachea, or lungs)
Conjunctival congestion (0.8%)
How Can You Protect Yourself?
You should take the same precautions as you might for any respiratory condition:
· Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
· Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
· Stay home when you are sick.
· Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue. Then throw the tissue in the trash and sanitize your hands.
· Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
The Psychological Factors
· Do not panic, but give yourself permission to feel fear. Fear gets you prepared. As for panic, all one has to do is look at the crowded halls of Wuhan hospitals during the early phases of the outbreak to understand how panic worsens problems. A jolt of fear is all right, as it gets you moving in the right direction. After that point, however, you must turn to thinking clearly, level-headedly, and listen to your local health authorities. As for what you can do, follow the steps in the "Risk Reduction" section below.
· Normalcy bias plays a factor. So does denial. You may hear things like "it's just a flu, nothing to worry about." Facing the threat will help you prepare for it while denial puts you and your loved ones at risk. People in denial may take foolish risks like attend crowded events during an active outbreak, or fail to take precautionary measures, thereby accidentally passing the virus on to others. Denial also slows community response.
· Here is an excellent Harvard piece on reactions and overreactions, denial versus panic, and the five principle bulwarks against denial. It is short and absolutely worth your time.
· For officials, crisis management teaches us that it is important not to downplay a threat, otherwise you may lose the public's trust. Do not fear inducing a panic (see the aforementioned paper). The public needs you to be clear, informative, competent, and proactive. Studies such as