We're not even through the first quarter of 2020, but the year will be defined by the novel coronavirus. The news about the new coronavirus can seem really scary and overwhelming, so we've put together this easy, science-based guide to dealing with COVID-19, hand sanitizer, and face masks. Stay healthy out there!
What is the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, exactly?
Glad you asked! Though it seems like these terms can be used interchangeably, the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 refer to two different things.
The novel coronavirus refers to a new type of coronavirus that was discovered in 2019, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is the virus that is causing the current global panic.
There are many types of coronaviruses that infect humans, and like your awful ex-boyfriend, they are always mutating. You're probably most familiar with the virus that causes the common cold — yes, it's a type of coronavirus. A coronavirus also caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.
COVID-19 refers to the illness resulting from the novel coronavirus. It's the shorthand way to write "Coronavirus disease 2019."
If these symptoms sound incredibly vague, that's because they are. The reason COVID-19 is getting so much attention is because of the mortality rate associated with the virus.
Yes, COVID-19 is killing people. That's frightening, I know, but the flu and common cold also kill people.
At press time, the global mortality rate for COVID-19 is 3.4%, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 114,073 people have been infected, and 4,004 people have died from COVID-19. That number is going to climb, of course.
Luckily, the actual mortality rate may be much lower. COVID-19 symptoms are so mild and similar to the common cold that most people who may be infected aren't getting tested.
How does the novel coronavirus spread?
The novel coronavirus' main method of transportation is aeresolization, or "through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes," says the CDC. You're most at risk if someone infected with the virus sneezes or coughs within 6 feet of you.
To limit the spread of the coronavirus, cover your mouth with your elbow when you cough and sneeze, not your hands.
How does this compare with the flu?
Viral influenza, also known as the flu, is estimated to have caused 20,000 to 52,000 deaths in the U.S. during the 2019–2020 flu season alone. The CDC reports that there were an estimated 34 to 49 million flu illnesses, so those death represent a mortality rate of under 1%.
The Spanish flu of 1918 was the last major deadly global health pandemic. With a mortality rate of 2.5%, it infected nearly a third of the world population, essentially helped end World War I , and killed almost 50 million people worldwide.
I don't mean to scare you, but COVID-19's mortality rate is higher than the 1918 Spanish flu. That said, here's why you don't need to be afraid.
You are probably not going to get sick from the novel coronavirus.
Let's all take a deep breath and relax. I'm not a doctor or epidemiologist, but I can tell you while you may be exposed to the novel coronavirus, that you will probably not get seriously ill. *If* you get sick, you'll have cold-like symptoms that will resolve with basic home management care, like rest and watching reruns of The Office.
Additionally, viruses tend to hate warmer weather, so the spread may slow in the Northern Hemisphere during the spring and summer. Still, there is not enough information to make this determination, so don't take my word for it.
You are probably not at risk for complications.
Like the common cold and flu, COVID-19 poses the most risk for complications among the elderly. The CDC also states that other high-risk populations include those with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and those who are immunocompromised.
In other words, the average healthy person will most likely be just fine.
Still, there are precautions you can take!
If you want to help minimize the spread of COVID-19, practice common-sense hygiene. The CDC recommends washing your hands, staying home if you are sick, and cleaning commonly used surfaces.
The biggest thing you can do? Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough. Remember the coronavirus' main method of transportation!
You don't need to wear a face mask.
You've probably seen news photos of people wearing face masks in public. Health organizations are asking healthy people not to do that, because healthcare workers need them in order to do their jobs.
The WHO says that you only need to wear a face mask if you have COVID-19 or are caring for someone who has COVID-19. Otherwise, just wash your hands. You'll be fine!