Coronavirus (COVID-19): the facts

What is coronavirus?

  • It is a virus: a very tiny organism that infects a host to replicate and can cause disease.
  • COVID-19 is the illness caused by a novel virus in the Coronavirus family. It has not been seen in humans before.
  • Coronavirus causes respiratory (breathing) illnesses on a spectrum, from a cold to pneumonia.

What is a pandemic?

  • A worldwide spread of a new contagious disease.
  • Affects a large proportion of the population.
  • Most people do not have immunity.

How does it spread?

  • Via respiratory droplets which travel furthest when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • From person to person when standing within approximately 6 feet of one other.
  • Touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Airborne transmission beyond 6 feet is possible in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation such as a gym or a restaurant, especially when talking loudly, breathing heavily, or singing.
  • It can also be spread by people who are not showing in any symptoms.
  • More info here

What are the symptoms?

  • Fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, sore throat, muscle aches, headache, chills, repeated shaking with chills, new loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea
  • EMERGENCY SIGNS: difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, ongoing chest pain or pressure, new confusion, unable to rouse, blueish lips / face.

How long is the time period between catching the virus and showing symptoms (incubation period)?

  • On average: 5 days.
  • Reported as between 1-14 days.

How sick are people getting?

  • Some people are infected but do not show symptoms, or have very mild symptoms.
  • Approximately 80% of people recover without needing special treatment (though can have very unpleasant symptoms).
  • Approximately 1 in 5 or 6 people get severely unwell, have trouble breathing and need hospital care.
  • Some people, even after mild disease, may experience lingering symptoms of the disease for several weeks after recovery or prolonged illness.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

  • If you have mild symptoms self-isolate, if possible use a separate bathroom from those you live with, do not share kitchen utensils, do not share bedding, do not use public transport or go to public spaces.
  • Contact your doctor if you have cold or flu-like symptoms for further medical advice or before going into their office.
  • Wear a mask if sick and going to the doctor.
  • If symptoms worsen or if you have trouble breathing, call 911 or go to the ER.

Who is high-risk?

  • Older adults 60+ (highest risk 80+)
  • People with pre-existing medical conditions: heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure
  • People undergoing treatments that weaken immune system: cancer, autoimmune diseases

Are children at risk?

  • Children can get and transmit coronavirus.
  • Children seem to get milder symptoms: cold-like symptoms, runny nose, cough, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Children with underlying health conditions may be more at risk.

How can I protect myself and my community?

  • Use a mask or a face covering when outside and within 6 feet of people.
  • Stay home if sick. Disinfect frequently used surfaces. Clean your phones.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, then throw this tissue away.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds regularly before eating or after being outside. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap is unavailable.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Social distance: avoid public gatherings, do not go to restaurants or bars, do not host events, cancel non-essential appointments or outings. Do not shake hands or hug people — instead wave from a safe distance of 6 feet apart
  • Consider getting the flu shot and, if eligible, the pneumococcal vaccine — this will not prevent COVID-19 but can help prevent illnesses with similar symptoms.

Why are low-risk people also being told to social distance?

  • This is to help slow the spread of the disease.
  • It is to protect the vulnerable in our communities, those we know and those we don’t — it is to make it less likely that your parents, grandparents, chronically ill relatives and friends will be infected by this coronavirus.

Which countries have diagnosed cases of COVID-19?

  • COVID-19 is global: multiple countries in all different areas of the world have reported cases. This includes hot and cold climates, high and low resources.
  • See here for WHO’s daily report about which countries are involved and how many cases are reported.

Can I travel?

  • It is advisable to postpone all non-essential travel both domestically and internationally.
  • Airports, like all big gatherings, increase the risk of being exposed and spreading the virus
  • If you are going to travel: check the amount of COVID-19 cases in that area, take precautions to decrease the risk of spreading or catching the disease (see above).
  • If possible, try to avoid public transport. Consider biking, walking, running, driving in a personal car.

Best practices for mask use

  • The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings (NOT medical masks) when going outside. This is to keep asymptomatic people from spreading the virus to those who are uninfected. It is still extremely important to maintain social distancing protocols.
  • Please do not stockpile masks – save them for the medical professionals and those who need them.
  • See here for how to properly put on and dispose of your mask, and instructions for making your own masks at home.

How can I look after the emotional health of myself and others whilst physically distancing?

  • Create micro-communities in your apartment building / street: email groups, google docs, text groups to provide support and practical help if anyone needs help shopping, dog-walking, getting their regular medicine and with general resources. See example of a leaflet to send out here.
  • Virtually check in with family and friends – Skype, text, call – make sure everyone is doing ok. Social distancing can be very isolating and the anxiety about health, finances, the future can cause severe psychological distress.
  • Contact organizations that make phone calls to the vulnerable and elderly to see if you can volunteer.

Is there a vaccine?

  • The FDA has now approved two vaccines against coronavirus for emergency use: the BioNTech/Pfizer: BNT162b2 and the Moderna: mRNA-1273 vaccines. They are both mRNA vaccines and shown to be safe and effective in vaccine trials
  • The vaccine will be prioritized for healthcare workers, essential workers, and high-risk individuals. The general public can expect to get vaccinated by mid-2021.
  • Mask-use and social distancing should be continued even after vaccination until a sufficiently high proportion of the population can be vaccinated.
  • More about the vaccines and their rollout plans can be found here.
  • Other vaccine candidates are in the pipeline. Read more about them here.

Is there a treatment?

  • Treatment is supportive only.
  • Antibiotics will not help against this or any virus.
  • There is currently a lot of work underway on whether experimental treatments or steroids will help.
  • The best way to prevent getting the virus currently is regular hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks.

Other resources

View in Spanish.