What we know
- Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, is sometimes referred to as “novel coronavirus,”
“new coronavirus,” or (less accurately) “coronavirus.” It is an infectious disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.
- SARS-CoV-2 belongs to a class of viruses that cause respiratory infections in humans.
- You might be infectious even if you show no symptoms or have only mild symptoms resembling a flu or cold. You may get others sick, possibly transmitting to someone who is immunocompromised or otherwise more susceptible
to getting sick or developing more severe symptoms.
- Like the flu, COVID-19 most commonly spreads
through the droplets of liquid that are transmitted when an infected person speaks, coughs, or exhales. These droplets can linger in the air for several hours and on surfaces sometimes for days.
- Personal measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 include washing your
hands (preferably with soap and water, but hand sanitizer or wipes are OK in a pinch; nothing beats soap and water—you may want to moisturize after washing your hands), coughing or sneezing into your elbow, washing your hands immediately if
you cough/sneeze into your hand, and not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth as these are how viruses typically enter the body.
- Cloth face coverings can slow the spread of
the virus and are recommended by the CDC for public settings such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
- Cleaning frequently touched surfaces (like door handles, light switches, and elevator knobs) regularly with disinfectant helps to kill the virus and reduce its spread. (The EPA has a list of disinfectants that can be used against coronavirus—look
for products from Clorox, Lysol, or other brands that list hydrogen peroxide, quaternary ammonium, bleach, or isopropyl alcohol [with a concentration of at least 60%] as their active ingredients.)
- Minimizing physical contact by practicing and maintaining social distance
is one of the most effective ways we can limit the spread of COVID-19. This
may mean avoiding public transit, ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber, and other crowded contexts in which you are unavoidably in close proximity to other people. This includes family and social gatherings, play dates, and non-essential shopping
trips. If you must go out, keep at least 6 feet away from others so that you are less likely to be in range of infected droplets.
- Avoid in-person meetings or interviews and conduct them via phone, e-mail, or online meeting software, e.g., Skype, Zoom, FaceTime.
- In the U.S., unless you are symptomatic you are currently unlikely to be tested.
- It’s important we all protect ourselves in order to protect others, especially those who are in higher-risk groups and are more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill or dying.
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What to do if you might have been exposed
- Self-monitor. Check yourself for fever twice a day, and remain alert for dry coughs or difficulty breathing. If you feel feverish, develop a cough, or have difficulty breathing during the self-monitoring period,
you should self-quarantine. That means aggressively limiting contact with other people—not just social distancing—and seeking advice by telephone from a health care provider or your local health department to determine whether medical
evaluation is needed. (Reference: CDC)
- Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, you should self-quarantine and stay away from other people for at least two weeks. This is especially important if you have family or friends who may have compromised immune
systems or otherwise belong to high-risk groups. Remember: You might be contagious even if you show no symptoms.
- Notify any people you’ve come into contact with recently and let them know that they should monitor themselves.
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What to do if you or someone you care for is showing symptoms
- Contact a healthcare facility by phone or video chat and get guidance from a trained health care worker. They should decide whether home care is advisable and provide guidance. If you have insurance but cannot get
in touch with your doctor’s office, check with your insurance provider’s nurse line. Do not go in person to an emergency room or doctor’s office unless you’ve been explicitly advised to do so by a medical professional.
Similarly, 911 calls should be reserved for life-threatening emergencies. Many doctors’ offices are currently swamped with requests and questions and in some cases are providing inconsistent guidance on next steps.
- If you are caring for someone who is showing symptoms, provide a comfortable space in which you can limit their movement and contact with others. Place the person in a well-ventilated room (e.g., with windows that
open and an open door). Every surface the person comes in contact with should be cleaned regularly and thoroughly with a recommended disinfectant.
If possible, the person showing symptoms should use a separate bedroom and bathroom and should not share dishes, cutlery, or linens.
- Limit the number of caretakers. The primary caretaker should be someone who is healthy with no underlying health conditions—especially no chronic or underlying illnesses. Visitors should not be allowed until
the patient has been cleared by a medical professional as having completely recovered and is no longer displaying any signs or symptoms of the disease.
- Clean spaces regularly, especially rooms where the person is being cared for (including furniture), bathrooms, and anywhere food is prepared. Avoid contact with bodily fluids. The caretaker and the patient should
practice washing hands frequently with soap and hot water. It is preferable to use disposable paper towels to dry hands after washing. If these
are not available, use clean cloth towels and replace them whenever they become wet. The patient should use dedicated linens and eating utensils that are not shared and are washed and cleaned thoroughly by someone wearing single-use gloves before
being reused. If possible, the patient should wear a single-use surgical mask whenever the caretaker is present to minimize the spread of infected droplets. Remove masks by untying them rather than touching the front, and discard immediately. If masks
are not available, be sure to sneeze or cough into tissues only and discard them safely into a covered trash bin.
- Mental health is as important as physical health. Even when you are physically isolated during self-quarantine, social interaction is important. Talking to friends and family through video, texting, or phone calls
can help maintain normalcy, and other regular routines can all help maintain good mental health.
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Some people are at higher risk of severe illness
- Evidence suggests two groups are at higher risk of getting severe COVID-19:
- People over 60. The risk of severe illness and death increases with age, starting at around 40.
- Anyone with underlying medical conditions, including people who are immunocompromised or have heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, or cancer.
- It is especially important for these people to protect themselves and take precautions.
(References: CDC’s guidelines | ACL’s guidelines)
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