It has been more than 300 days since Chinese officials first told the World Health Organization that people were ill due to an unspecified virus in Wuhan. Scientists quickly learned what this virus was (a type of coronavirus) and what it caused (which made people sick called COVID-19), and it had spread like wildfire across the globe. More than 1 million people around the world die, hundreds of thousands get sick every day, and the United States is the place to distinguish the worst outbreaks in the world.
When we published the first guide to coronavirus, researchers were still uncertain about how the virus spreads, when humans were infected, or if you could get the disease twice. There are still some uncertainties about some of those questions, but the scientists have made some significant progress on the answers.
Doctors now have a better understanding of which treatments are effective (and which are not) and better care for their patients. Public health organizations have analyzed incoming data and issued and reissued instructions as new information becomes available. Both treatments and instructions are likely to change more as the pandemic continues, although not as quickly as in March and April. The Verge have followed all those updates and we will continue to do so as the months continue.
For now, here is a COVID-19 fraud sheet that breaks down public health recommendations and knowledge you may need to navigate this ongoing pandemic.
This page can be updated with new information as suggestions change.
How can I protect myself from COVID-19?
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is highly contagious, and if you come into contact with an infected person, you’re also at risk. Therefore, the best ways to protect yourself are to stay away from people with COVID-19. But some infected people have no symptoms – without testing, you can’t be sure that someone doesn’t have the virus. Anyone who is infected can release virus-filled droplets from their mouth or nose when they cough, speak or breathe. Staying away from others, even if they don’t seem sick, can help keep you safe.
Initial recommendations are to stay about six feet away from people you don’t live with. In some situations that still makes sense. However, that metric doesn’t work in all situations. Sometimes, particles filled with viruses can travel further than that. They can also survive in the air, especially indoors and places with poor ventilation. That’s why you should avoid crowded indoor spaces. Even if you’re six feet away from someone, they can exhale clouds of viruses that can accumulate in the air and find their way to you.
You should also wash your hands often and clean surfaces like doorknobs and countertops, although the virus does not seem to spread that way easily.
Actually fabric masks can do anything?
Masks have two functions: to help prevent you from accidentally spreading coronavirus to others and reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. If you are infected and don’t know it, wearing a mask will block some of the virus particles you exhale with each breath – meaning they will be less likely to enter the eyes, nose, and mouth of people around you. .
Some studies show that they may also prevent you from getting sick. The gold standard facemask for medical personnel, the N95 respirator, filters out up to 95% of incoming dirt and particles, which can carry viruses. They help protect doctors and nurses in close contact with COVID-19 patients. But there is some evidence that even simple cloth masks can filter the air you breathe in, reducing the amount of virus you can come into contact with. Some studies show that if you are infected with the virus in lower doses, you won’t get sick even if you have COVID-19. Models by the epidemiologists also show that tens of thousands of deaths could be prevented if everyone wore a mask.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, body aches, headache, and loss of taste or smell. They are similar to the symptoms of the flu – making it difficult to tell the difference between the two without testing.
When should I get tested?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that anyone who has any symptoms of COVID-19 or has been with an infected person should be tested for the virus. You may also want to be tested if you’ve spent time in a higher risk environment. For example, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recommends that anyone with a large group of people get tested. If you live in an area with a lot of COVID-19 or if you have recently traveled to a place where the spread is widespread, you may also want to check in more often.
What does the test tell me?
Tests tell you if there is a coronavirus in your body at the exact moment the gauze touches the inside of your nose or the back of your throat. That’s important information, especially if you’re feeling sick. However, a negative test result shouldn’t be your chance to do anything you want – especially if you’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive or is in a crowded area. It can take up to two weeks for the infection to show up and you can test negative one day and be positive the next.
How long can I be contagious?
The amount of virus floating around the body of a person with COVID-19 tends to increase for a day or two before they start to feel sick and then gradually decrease. Your virus level is not an accurate indication of how well you are spreading it, but it is used as a surrogate. Some studies show that most people pass the virus on to others at some point for 48 hours before symptoms start or for 10 days after. The CDC recommends that people stay on quarantine for at least 10 days after symptoms start and until they have gone 24 hours without fever.
How will I get sick if I get it?
It depends on how old you are and whether you have other health problems. As you get older, your risk of having a serious case of COVID-19 increases – partly because your immune system gets weaker. People with medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure are also at increased risk of complications.
However, young and healthy people can still get very sick. Just because something is rare doesn’t mean it never happens, and the disease can be dangerous for everyone. Some people have symptoms for months. These patients, called “long-term patients”, end up with a chronic illness. It is not clear why some people experience those lasting effects.
How will I be treated if I get sick?
That depends on how sick you are. If you are sick but not to the point of going to the hospital, there is not much the doctor can do. You can take over-the-counter medications, drink water, and you should monitor your symptoms for signs that you are getting worse.
Doctors have made a lot more progress in treating patients with COVID-19 hospitalized since the onset of the disease. Studies have found that drugs such as the steroid dexamethasone improve survival rates for patients with severe symptoms. They were not put on ventilators as often as they did before the pandemic. Instead, they lie on their stomach, helping them absorb more oxygen.
Depending on how clinical trials unfold, we may have a new type of treatment – synthetic antibodies – at some point in the future. These drugs work by blocking the virus, and they are being tested in patients who are not hospitalized. However, even if they do work, they will be available in very limited quantities and most people won’t be able to afford them.
If I get sick and then get better, will I be immune?
Most experts assume that most people who receive COVID-19 and recover are protected against the virus for at least a short time, although it’s not clear how long that interval is. However, that is not the case for everyone. There have been a number of reports of people who became sick, recovered and then re-infected with the virus only a few months later. Those people may be the exception, not the rule – but they show that those who are already sick should not assume that they can live normal lives and not have to worry about a pandemic.
Can I get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?
Theoretically, you could get both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time – that’s one reason why getting a flu shot is so important. There isn’t a lot of research on what happens when people have both, but a small UK study found it significantly increased the risk of death.
When is the vaccine available?
By November or December, we will have preliminary data from the clinical trials of several vaccine candidates. If the tests show that the vaccine works to prevent people from getting COVID-19 or make the illness milder if they have it, the Food and Drug Administration may authorize it in an emergency. If that happens, a company can start distributing vaccines. However, there will be very limited doses and the first shots will be for those at highest risk – in most places, possibly health care workers, first responders and Elderly.
So the vaccine might be “ready” by the end of 2020 or early 2021, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get it. More vaccines are likely to be licensed in the next year or so, and distribution will be a major challenge.
When will this end?
Nobody know. However, experts know that it won’t last forever. The pandemic virus eventually ceases to be a pandemic and transforms into a normal disease that we deal with all the time. As we learn more about COVID-19 and develop better tools to prevent and treat it, coronavirus becomes less of a threat. That probably won’t happen for months – cases are still spiking in the US and around the world – but at some point, the virus won’t be scary anymore. Until then, it is a real threat to everyone. Taking it seriously is the best way to get the end going faster.