Key Facts on Coronavirus. Don't Panic, Prepare!
There’s a lot of hype out there on COVID-19, and I mean A LOT! Get the facts on coronavirus here and learn where else to find the best information on coronavirus.
Why is Resync getting involved with COVID-19?
Let me introduce myself. My name is Detrick; I’ve been a writer with the Resync team for a couple of years now.
It really irks me to see the media drive misinformation around any issue (especially nutrition). That’s why I love my work here: there’s no place for BS at Resync.
It makes me especially angry to see news sources inspiring fear in the public and social media accounts showing how people are falling for the media gimmicks. Toilet paper gone from shelves, people stealing face masks from hospitals, rampant discrimination; people are doing anything to ease their media-fueled anxiety.
This has to stop.
Clickbait headlines, skewed data, and content that inspires fear have no place in the coverage of such a serious issue as a global pandemic.
Shame on those news platforms that spread that kind of junk. I’m not even going to link to those websites. They are irresponsibly fueling widespread panic in the U.S. and beyond.
Resync’s CEO, Barbara Depta, has given me this platform to help spread a reasonable perspective and fact-based information on this pandemic.
I am a dietitian, I have a master's degree in public health, I teach at a local university. My mission is to dispel myths and provide people with resources and facts so they can make better decisions for themselves.
After reading this, next time you're scrolling through your news feed you’ll be able to spot who’s falling for the hype and who's being sensible. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those of you who are keeping cool, even when a large number of the 1.1 billion social media posts on coronavirus urge you otherwise.
So here it goes. Please read, comment, and share. You won’t find a drop of misinformation here.
What do I need to know about COVID-19?
I’ll give you the takeaways first. When it comes to this disease, there a few things to remember:
- Being worried is natural and expected; this has been declared a pandemic, after all. You can make sure that you feel safer by getting your facts from the WHO or CDC or your local government website, not from social media or even your local news.
- The number one thing that you can do to preserve your health and those around you is to take standard protocols to minimize the spread. Thoroughly and regularly wash your hands; this is by far the most critical thing that you can do!
- Covid-19 is a mild condition for 80% of those who get it. There are certain people who have a higher risk for a more severe infection. Old age and already having a chronic disease are the top two things that put people in the “high-risk” category.
- Social distancing is not social isolating or quarantine unless you’re a high risk person or in contact with high risk people. Take precautions like washing your hands, avoiding large gatherings, and listening to your government officials’ recommendations; but don’t go overboard, feed into the panic, and make the whole situation worse.
- States of emergency have been declared all over the world and in the United States. These declarations make resources more available to the government and public health workers, and they tell you that you should be prepared. These are not, however, statements of imminent apocalypse. In fact, since these measures make it easier to address the issue at a large scale, you don’t necessarily have to do the panicking.
- A pandemic is a large outbreak of an infection that has spread worldwide. When an illness becomes a pandemic, that means it’s reaching more people, not that it’s turned into a deadlier disease. You should take extra precautions now, but go to the CDC map to see what the risk looks like in your area.
- Although there is much that scientists do not know about COVID-19, they do know that this outbreak is not like the H1N1 or SARS pandemics, but it’s also not like the common flu. It’s somewhere in between, and it takes nuance to talk about it.
- If you think you’re sick, DO NOT GO TO THE ER. Call your doctor to see what the best thing you should do is. If you arrive unannounced in a hospital, you’re going to infect a lot of the most vulnerable people. Just don’t do that: stay calm and call your doctor.
There are a few other important things you can do, covered next. But first, I think we’re witnessing a situation where the fear itself is greater than the fear of the disease. Having some basic knowledge can go a long way in preventing undue panic.
What is the difference between Coronavirus and Covid-19?
A coronavirus is a type of virus that can get you sick. Even though coronaviruses are not technically flu viruses, they are one of the viruses that cause the common cold.
This new coronavirus can spread more widely than the common cold, and it is more severe than the typical coronavirus infections, but according to the CDC Covid-19 is not as severe of a disease as other coronaviruses like SARS or MERS.
The infection spreading round the world right now is a new strain of the coronavirus called 2019-nCoV. If you get infected with it, you get the disease called “Covid-19”.
Here’s a microscopically close-up look at a coronavirus:
Those “spike” proteins on the surface are what allows it to infect you. These proteins are also what your immune system uses to target the virus when your body mounts a defense.
It’s your immune system’s reaction that leads to the symptoms of Covid-19: fever, cough, and fatigue are the top three that most people feel. Shortness of breath is a symptom of a more severe infection.
Here’s a graphic made by Our World in Data with data form the WHO that shows what symptoms you should look out for if you think you were exposed to coronavirus.
How does Coronavirus spread?
Diseases do not spread like magic.
COVID-19, like many other viruses, travels in tiny water droplets.
These typically spread up to 6 feet around an infected person who’s coughing and sneezing. Some research has shown that it may spread in the water in the air you breathe - think of multiple people breathing in an enclosed space like a cubicle - but it is uncertain how much this plays into the spread of the disease.
According to the WHO, as long as you’re washing your hands well and often, not touching your face with unwashed hands, and staying at least 6 feet away from potentially infected people, the risk of getting infected is actually quite low.
Except for the hardest hit areas like northern Italy, Wuhan China, or some other cities, you’re not likely to get Covid-19 by going for a walk outside.
Who is at most risk for Covid-19?
For your mental health, know that covid-19 is only severe for people with a high risk. Those at high risk can take precautions, and the rest of the health population should help to protect them.
If you are an average relatively healthy person, you shouldn’t be worried for yourself.
I don’t mean to downplay the severity here: not being worried is different than not being careful. There’s a lot we don’t know about this disease, and in times of uncertainty, you should take sensible precautions to protect everyone.
There are some people who should be extra cautious. It’s the responsibility of people who aren’t going to be all that affected by this disease to make sure they don’t accidentally give this virus to someone who might be severely affected.
If you have the ability to, being cautious will help keep our vulnerable populations safe.
- Older people seem to be affected much more severely. This is one reason why the Italy situation is so severe. The average age of Italy is 65, and being over 60 means you have a greater risk for being hospitalized from the symptoms of coronavirus.
- If you have a compromised immune system, you should definitely be staying away from potential infections. Who is that? If you’re taking immunosuppressive drugs or if you have a severe autoimmune disease.
- If you have a severe chronic disease like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or a lung disease like asthma or you’re a smoker, you should also be a bit more cautious.
If you fall into one of these categories, you should be following the most stringent recommendations of the CDC and your doctor to the “T”. Following these instructions will put you in the safest position you can be in.
The really important thing here is that it’s up to everybody else who’s not at significant risk to minimize the spread of this disease.
You have to think about more than just how well you will do in this situation. How will the people around you fare?
What can I do about Coronavirus?
If you’re like the vast majority of Americans who are not infected with coronavirus - as of Tuesday, March 17th, there have been 4,226 people confirmed with COVID-19 - you’re probably wondering what to do.
Actually, I bet you’ve been watching the news and checking social media, so maybe you have some idea of what to do but you’re not sure who to listen to.
- The next best thing you can do to avoid touching your face with your hands.
- The next thing to do is the first step of social distancing: keeping a 6 foot distance between yourself and anyone who might be exposed to coronavirus.
Since coronavirus infects the lungs, you might be wondering, “can I use a face mask to protect myself?”
According to the CDC: no, a run of the mill facemask will not work. It’s like trying to stop a flood with a chain-link fence.
A specialized N95 facemask will do the trick, but there is currently a shortage of these; they need to be reserved for our healthcare workers on the front line of this pandemic!
Washing your hands, not touching your face, and keeping a moderate distance (6 feet) from potentially infected individuals are the absolute best ways to stop the spread of disease. These are the critical transmission points of any infection, and in this regard, coronavirus is no different.
I’m not sick, do I need to wash my hands?
YES! The interesting thing about this coronavirus is that it seems that there are a lot of people carrying the disease without symptoms.
The research suggests that only 50% of infections even result in any symptoms. For kids (ie, under 9 years old), even fewer show symptoms. It seems that half or more of the healthy population wouldn’t even know they had covid-19.
When symptoms do appear, they show up in 2-14 days in almost all people who have a visible infection. The average time to show symptoms is 5 days. Many studies show that the virus can be spread before people have symptoms.
So people who are infected and won’t show symptoms or haven’t yet shown symptoms can still spread coronavirus. That could be you, you have no way of knowing!
I’ll keep saying it. Wash your hands, wash them well, and wash them often.
As for hand sanitizer, you need to make sure you get the good stuff! Only 70% alcohol (or stronger) hand sanitizer is effective against coronavirus.
So, try to stop touching your face, and if you do, wash your hands before (to protect yourself) and after (to protect everyone else).
How do I wash my hands to stop coronavirus?
It’s nothing special, just three things:
- Hot water. As hot as you can stand.
- Soap. Any soap will do; research is mixed on whether antibacterial soap is better than plain old soap or not, but some is definitely better than none.
- Scrub. In between your fingers. Under your fingernails. For thirty seconds. How long is that? Sing the chorus from “Stayin’ alive” by the Bee Gees. You know, the part that everyone sings, it was on The TV show The Office, or here, check it out.
Sing the chorus all the way through while you wash your hands. Take it in. Relax knowing that you’re doing the very best thing for yourself, and for the world. Yeah, I’ll say it. You’re helping save the world by singing the Bee Gees while you wash your hands.
The great thing is that these are just standard protocols we should all be following, especially during flu season. It’s a two for one, protect yourself from catching a cold and from transmitting coronavirus!
What is social distancing for coronavirus?
Since people are transmitting COVID-19 by accident, before symptoms show up, if they even show up at all, officials are taking extreme precautions to slow the spread.
The best thing to do with the apparent uncertainty is to take a conservative approach, one that’s appropriate for your household and your location.
Social distancing is defined by the WHO as maintaining at least 3 feet of distance between you and somebody who is coughing or sneezing. The WHO recommends cancelling all mass gatherings as well.
CDC has a more strict definition. Social distancing according to the CDC is “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” They make the recommendation to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people.
And every state and government has come up with a definition in-between and more extreme. This is a situation that you have to judge.
Are you in contact with anyone who is in the high risk group? Is there evidence of coronavirus in your community? Be safe, not sorry.
Social distancing is a crude way to slow the spread of disease, and it works best with large groups: like 50, 200, or more people. According to Dr. Michael J Ryan, the Executive Director of the WHO, it is a measure that “has been used to some effect in slowing down the spread”.
It does not stop the disease or prevent it, social distancing slows down the disease so our healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed by a sudden jump in cases. Look at what happens to the disease burden when social distancing and best hygiene practices are used early on:
It’s used when there’s widespread community spread of the infection and you don’t know who’s spreading the disease. It’s best used in early stages when you don’t know the severity of the pandemic. Since there’s a shortage of testing available we don’t really know where the virus is hopping from person to person.
Making this call is a serious decision. Social distancing is detrimental to an economy and isn’t a very targeted way to address a pandemic.
A couple of places in the US - New York, Washington, California, and a few other cities in the U.S. that are showing community spread - are the places where social distancing is going to make the biggest impact.
If you’re high risk, you should limit your contact with others. If you’re not, you should use your discretion to limit your contact - direct or indirect - with at-risk individuals, exposed individuals, and with large gatherings.
In addition to the other frontline precautions like hand washing, working from home when possible, gathering with a tight knit group of friends in your own home, and avoiding large gatherings of people in enclosed spaces are going to help slow this disease down.
Just because everyone is social distancing though, that doesn’t mean you should cut yourself off from the world. Social distancing is not quarantine, it’s not social isolation.
The large scale economic and personal mental consequences of social distancing are real, and they’re not good. To minimize the unfortunate consequences, try these:
- For every hand you don’t shake, email a colleague.
- For every concert you avoid, send a youtube video to a friend.
- Every time you don’t go out, call a close friend or family member.
This is a time when we need MORE personal connection, not less, so make sure that your friends and family still know that you love them with a phone call or video call. Make sure they know you’re still healthy, physically and emotionally.
Let me be clear. If you’re over 60, and your friend is over 60, and you’re both taking extra precautions, you should not worry about seeing each other. Remember, diseases do not spread like magic, they have to be transmitted through water droplets that people spread.
But if you’re over 60 and your older friends have been to a packed grocery store recently, it’s best to maintain your distance.
What is a “large” social gathering? Can I still see my friends while social distancing?
This is an issue that you’ll have to use your discretion. There are a number of differing opinions coming from the highest level experts in the field.
At the very least, avoid large public events. I’ll illustrate why these can drive the spread of disease far, far more than an innocuous dinner party at home with a couple close friends.
Take a hypothetical situation. We’ll look at the difference between distancing yourself from large social gatherings versus moderate social distancing versus social isolation.
Imagine that 1% in a group of 1000 people have an infection. So 10 people in 1000 have an illness, and these 1000 people can all interact in three different ways:
- not social distancing
- moderate social distancing
- extreme social isolation.
What happens if we don’t do social distancing?
In the first case, if there are ten 100-person events, and there are a total of 10 people sick. In this case, it’s feasible that every single person could get exposed to the disease since there could be 1 person in each 100-person group spreading illness. Now, this extreme estimate is very unlikely.
Really, it's impossible - one virus can only infect so many people (seems to be about 2.3 with coronavirus). But if 1 infected person is exposed to dozens of others, there’s a decent risk that this disease is going to spread rapidly.
What happens with moderate social distancing?
In the second case, these 1000 people interact in small social gatherings, say in 5-person parties at somebody’s house. When you distribute those 10 sick people into 5-person groups instead of 100-person groups, they can only potentially infect a much smaller number of people.
In this case of moderate social distancing, a maximum of 50 could get exposed (which again is a huge overestimate, there are much better, much more advanced statistical models for these kinds of calculations).
But compare the 50 people who can get exposed to the whole population of 1000 being exposed in the other example, and you see why we should all be avoiding large events or places that we’d see hundreds of people at once (airports, busy grocery stores, concerts and events, you get the picture).
What happens with extreme social distancing?
Now, look at the case of social isolation, which is only recommended when the situation gets as bad as it can get, like in Italy or at ground zero in Wuhan, China, or if your household has somebody who’s “high risk”:
1000 people don’t interact at all, and the disease doesn’t spread.
Simple as that. But imagine what that world would look like.
Our economy would grind to a halt.
Hospitals wouldn’t have the staff or supplies to function. Grocery stores would be closed. Electricity, public transportation, and the essentials would all be turned off.
Our world would become an empty shell of civilization, our country would collapse.
Mental health problems would surge. Our anxiety would spin out of control.
This is why extreme social distancing, isolation, or quarantine is only recommended by the CDC for people who are at high risk living in infected communities and for people who have or might have Covid-19.
I’ll reiterate, according to the WHO it is unlikely that you have or have been exposed to COVID-19. It just isn’t around enough and isn’t severe enough to warrant the hysterical reaction we’re seeing in the news and on social media.
How does the flu compare to covid-19?
Let’s look at the flu. There have already been 22,000 to 51,000 people killed by the regular flu this season in the U.S. Yes, I said that right: go check the CDC.
It’s an astonishing number
Since Covid-19 started taking hold in the U.S. around the second week of February, let’s say February 15th when cases started showing up daily, 1680 deaths due to the flu were reported to the CDC.
This number is a minimum: many deaths are not reported at all, and this doesn’t include deaths from pneumonia, which the flu can cause.
How many people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19?
The CDC says: 75 as of March 17, 2020, 12:00 PM.
Yes, the regular flu is different from the 2019 coronavirus, which causes similar symptoms, but let’s reel in our frenzy-fueled expectations.
We don’t spread alarmist social media posts about the flu, that wouldn’t help healthcare workers, the economy, your job, your community, your mental well-being or your health.
You take sensible precautions like avoiding sick people and washing your hands.
The excessive reaction to COVID-19 is causing more problems than the disease itself.
I am not critiquing an appropriate reaction: taking those measures to keep yourself and your community safe, the governor declaring a state of emergency, a city mandating extreme social isolation to minimize the burden on local hospitals. These are reasonable, preventative reactions to improve population-level outcomes.
I’m talking about buying all the toilet paper, stocking up on guns, quarantining for 3 months, discrimination against people of Chinese origin. The list goes on of what I see people doing in the wake of this pandemic.
Frankly, the anxiety is making us do things that put us in more danger.
Please help by flagging these kinds of posts on social media as “inappropriate content”.
Stay safe, stay sane. Take the precautions necessary for your situation and you’ll be doing the best you can for yourself and your community.
What do I do if I think I have coronavirus?
Lastly, If you think you’re sick, do not go to the emergency room!
Symptoms are like a regular influenza-causing infection: fever, cough, and in extreme cases not being able to catch your breath.
If you have all these symptoms, you probably have the common cold or a flu. Up to 51,000,000 people have had the flu in the U.S. this winter. That’s 15% of the U.S. population.
About 4226 have been confirmed with COVID-19 on March 17th. Currently COVID-19 infects less than 0.001% of the U.S. population.
Even with a generous margin of error, this is an underestimate, but it goes to show that panicking is the least effective thing you can do.
If you think you have Covid-19, call your doctor and see what they say.
If you have all these symptoms and you’ve been exposed to someone who might have COVID-19, or you’ve travelled to an area that has it widespread, CALL your doctor to see what they say you should do.
Please, please, please DO NOT go to the emergency room unannounced if you think you have the flu or COVID-19. Help keep everyone else safe, and do what your doctor says to do!
What should I know about coronavirus?
We’ll keep you updated on a regular basis on the reasonable things you should do, where to find good information, and our thoughts on how to survive and thrive in this uncertain time.
For now, I’ll reiterate:
If you are over 60 years old, you have a serious chronic condition, or you’re taking care of someone who falls into that category, you should be taking the maximum precautions to protect the both of you.
- Being worried is natural and expected; get your facts from the WHO or CDC or your local government website for the best information.
- Governments are working hard so that you don’t have to worry. Be prepared, but don’t be afraid - you have the tools to minimize the spread of this disease!
- If you’re a high-risk person with a poor immune system, you should do your best to isolate yourself.
- For the healthy population, social distancing is not social isolating. Take precautions, and avoid large gatherings, but don’t go overboard and make the problem worse.
- The very best thing that you can do is to wash your hands. Talk to your doctor if you think you’re sick.
- If you think you’re sick, DO NOT GO TO THE ER. Call your doctor to see what the best thing you should do is.
If you’re not a high risk individual - and even if you are - try not to be worried about this issue. Do your best, but that’s about all you can do!
COVID-19 is not going to be the next world war. It’s not the next Spanish flu or bubonic plague. Coronavirus is somewhere between the common flu and some other notable outbreaks that have spread worldwide in the past.
I am not trying to make light of this situation: it is definitely an issue that should be handled like a widespread outbreak. But the economy and government is not going to shut down because of this issue, even if it’s as bad as it could possibly be.
In 2009, there was a worldwide pandemic of H1N1 bird flu. It was on all accounts a very severe pandemic. About a half million people died worldwide. That’s tragic.
But it didn’t grind our universe to a standstill. We did our best to stay calm and we all worked together to minimize the damage.
We can take what we learned from that outbreak, and many others, to minimize the spread of this disease.
So when you’re taking precautions - washing your hands, cancelling your flight, working from home - be reassured! You’re doing your part in minimizing the spread of this disease and others.
By doing the work to minimize the spread of COVID-19, we can minimize the anxiety. By spreading accurate information, we can know what to expect and think through our options.
We want to hear from you!
Be sure to comment below if you want to say something or if you have a question. I want to use this platform to spread quality information and a clear perspective during this distressing time. Subscribe to our feed and don’t miss our coverage of this issue!
While some media is trying to drive revenue through clickbait and fake news, we make sure to back up our claims with hard data. We believe that when you have the right information, you’re empowered to make the best decision for yourself. That’s why we break down complex science into practical takeaways you can use today.
Want to say something? Leave a comment or question below and we’ll get back to you!
Wishing you the best in your health and your safety,
Resources & References
Baum, Stephen G. “COVID-19 Incubation Period: An Update.” NEJM Journal Watch, vol. 2020, Journal Watch, Mar. 2020. www.jwatch.org, doi:10.1056/nejm-jw.NA51083.
Cai, Jing, et al. Early Release - Indirect Virus Transmission in Cluster of COVID-19 Cases, Wenzhou, China, 2020 - Volume 26, Number 6—June 2020 - Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal - CDC. wwwnc.cdc.gov, doi:10.3201/eid2606.200412. Accessed 17 Mar. 2020.
CDC. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Accessed 17 Mar. 2020.
Elder, Nancy C., et al. “Hand Hygiene and Face Touching in Family Medicine Offices: A Cincinnati Area Research and Improvement Group (CARInG) Network Study.” The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, vol. 27, no. 3, American Board of Family Medicine, May 2014, pp. 339–46. www.jabfm.org, doi:10.3122/jabfm.2014.03.130242.
Mizumoto, Kenji, et al. “Estimating the Asymptomatic Proportion of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Cases on Board the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, Yokohama, Japan, 2020.” Eurosurveillance, vol. 25, no. 10, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Mar. 2020, p. 2000180. www.eurosurveillance.org, doi:10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.10.2000180.
Park, Junchol, and Bita Moghaddam. “Impact of Anxiety on Prefrontal Cortex Encoding of Cognitive Flexibility.” Neuroscience, vol. 345, Mar. 2017, pp. 193–202. PubMed Central, doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.06.013.
Raffa, Robert B., et al. “Persistence of Healthcare-Associated (Nosocomial) Infections Due to Inadequate Hand Hygiene: Part 2—Human Factors.” Pharmacology & Pharmacy, vol. 09, no. 08, 08, Scientific Research Publishing, Aug. 2018, p. 310. www.scirp.org, doi:10.4236/pp.2018.98024.
Roser, Max, et al. “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research.” Our World in Data, Mar. 2020. ourworldindata.org, https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus.
Su, Shuo, et al. “Epidemiology, Genetic Recombination, and Pathogenesis of Coronaviruses.” Trends in Microbiology, vol. 24, no. 6, June 2016, pp. 490–502. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.tim.2016.03.003.
WHO. Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak. 2019. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019. Accessed 17 Mar. 2020.