Coronavirus FAQ: What You Need to Know About COVID-19


Photo courtesy of Duke University.

A computer-generated image of COVID-19.

Sophie Maxwell and Carson Ankeny

This article is the first in a series of articles relating to the COVID-19 outbreak. It serves as an overview of frequently asked questions about the virus, so as to better inform the CCHS community on the facts of the problem. Other articles in the series can be found here. 

What is the coronavirus?

There are many types of coronavirus, named for the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus, many of which just cause a common cold. This specific strain of the virus, COVID-19, originated in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. 

What are the symptoms of the virus?

Symptoms can vary greatly depending on the severity of the case, but they most often resemble those of the flu. This can include fever, tiredness, runny and/or stuffy nose and a dry cough. Others may develop symptoms such as body aches and diarrhea.

How does it compare to the flu?

While both the flu and COVID-19 are communicable respiratory illnesses, they are not the same disease. The flu is caused by the influenza virus, while COVID-19 is caused by a previously undiscovered coronavirus. The fatality rate of the coronavirus is currently uncertain, due to varying intensities among different outbreaks; however, it is estimated that it will turn out to be approximately that of a severe flu. So far, the coronavirus seems to be more contagious than the flu. Both diseases are more dangerous for people older than 65 and those with weak immune systems. Although the flu is particularly dangerous for young children, COVID-19 is not. 

What precautions should we be taking?

The CDC advises that people take the same precautions that would be taken for other viruses like the flu. They advise people to wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth. Additionally, they advise people to avoid those that have contracted the disease, and to stay home if they feel sick themselves to avoid spreading the virus.

Should I be wearing a mask?

While masks are not absolutely unhelpful for those who are not yet infected, they are not significantly helpful either. While they can stop you from touching your nose and mouth, there are not many other benefits to them for those who have yet to be infected. However, for those who are showing symptoms of the coronavirus already, masks can be very important. Masks can stop large particles from sneezes and coughs, stopping one way that the disease spreads. 

What happens if I get the virus?

According to the CDC, if you have contacted your doctor and have tested positive for the disease, you should stay home unless absolutely necessary to get medical care, and you should also stay separate from any other people or animals in your home as much as possible. A face mask should also be worn, specifically for the reasons stated above. Overall, the best thing to do in the situation that you are ill with the coronavirus is to quarantine yourself and avoid getting others sick.

Where can I get tested?

If you suspect you may have COVID-19, call your doctor. They will likely ask you to come into their office, probably wearing a mask. If they suspect that you may have the virus, then they will contact the CDC for further testing instructions.

How much at risk are US residents?

There are more than 100,000 recorded cases that have occurred worldwide, and the virus has spread to every continent except for Antarctica. While it is very easily transmissible, there currently are not that many cases within the United States, with even fewer within Georgia.

How many cases are in the US?

As of the date of this article’s publication, there are currently over 555 cases in the United States, with 22 deaths. In Georgia, there are five confirmed cases, six presumptive cases and no deaths. A constantly updated map of US coronavirus cases can be viewed here.

Should I travel inside the US?

Most travel within the US should be safe, so long as you take the proper precautions to avoid getting sick with the coronavirus (i.e. washing hands, avoiding sick people, avoiding highly-touched surfaces that are not disinfected). However, some areas, such as King County, Washington, are suffering from major outbreaks of the coronavirus. Avoiding these areas would be advisable if possible. Do some research on the number of cases that are in the area that you are going to travel to, and make an educated decision about whether you feel safe traveling there.

Should I travel outside of the US?

Traveling outside of the US is much riskier than traveling inside the US. The US has instituted travel bans against certain countries with high coronavirus infection levels, and they may institute a travel ban on another nation at any moment if their infection levels increase. For this reason, it may be a problem to travel to these nations, because one may become stranded there if travel restrictions against that nation increase. In addition, certain areas, such as Italy and China, have very high levels of infection. Once again, just as travel within the US, you should research the number of cases in the area you plan to travel to, and then make your own educated decision about whether you feel it is safe to travel there.

Should we be in school?

UPDATE: Shortly after this article was published, Fulton County announced that they were closing schools  on Tuesday, March 10 after an employee tested positive for coronavirus. The response is mainly for the county to take special cleaning and sanitation measures, as well as to better assess the situation.

The CDC has urged schools to prepare for remote learning during extended school closures. That being said, they have not yet recommended that local schools be closed, and until they do so, it is safe for schools in the area to remain open. However, if you are sick, remain home to avoid infecting others, even if you do not suspect you have COVID-19.

Can animals contract the virus?

Currently, there is no evidence that either dogs or cats could become a source of infection for COVID-19. While there is evidence of one dog that has tested positive for the virus, there is no evidence that the dog is showing any symptoms, nor that the dog has any potential to spread the virus. While pets such as dogs and cats may become infected, it is very unlikely that they would suffer from symptoms of COVID-19 or actually become sick because COVID-19 is a disease whose symptoms prey specifically on the human immune system.

Is there an end in sight?

Currently, there is no way to be sure of any concrete outcome. As such, there are a variety of potential hypotheses as to what will happen with the virus. The hope is for the disease to slow its spread so that it infects people over a longer period of time, rather than so many people at once. This helps decrease the burden on hospitals and allow them to treat many more people, drastically reducing the fatality rate. There is a possibility that the disease becomes endemic, meaning it eventually infects humans regularly, like other coronaviruses that cause the common cold. However, in the event of a pandemic, if the virus cannot be contained, it will be considered under control when at least 50% of the population has developed immunity. In the best-case scenario, public health measures such as limiting large gatherings and frequent hand washing slow the spread of the disease enough for scientists to develop effective treatments. A true end to the outbreak will only result from antiviral treatments and/or a vaccine, which the CDC has predicted could be developed within the next 12 to 18 months.