It’s been months since the coronavirus outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China on December 31, and the infectious disease has shown no signs of slowing its spread since then. At the time of publication, more than 50 countries and nearly 90,000 people had been impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19, although that number is quickly growing.
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On Saturday, Feb. 29, the Trump administration announced that the first victim of COVID-19 had died in the United States. A second U.S. death due to coronavirus was announced on Sunday, March 1. The number of cases in the United States and around the world continues to climb.
At this time, no vaccine exists for the illness, although the NIH has reportedly started its first clinical trial to work on a treatment for COVID-19 and President Trump said that the government has “very good initial feedback” on a potential vaccine during a press conference at the White House.
With the disease poised to spread across the U.S. in the coming weeks, you might be wondering what symptoms you should be keeping an eye out for, as well as what precautions to take to keep yourself safe from the disease. Do masks work, and should you be limiting your travel plans? Is the coronavirus really that much different than the seasonal flu?
Here’s everything we currently know about the coronavirus, and how to protect yourself:
COVID-19 (SARS is another form of coronavirus) is an infectious virus that causes respiratory issues.
At this time, the CDC has reported that the 2019/2020 coronavirus—which originated in Wuhan—seems to spread primarily through person-to-person contact (like when you come into direct contact with someone who has the disease). There is also the potential that individuals may be able to catch the illness from a contaminated surface.
While the extent of this is unknown, officials have reported that a few individuals in Oregon and Northern California have reported getting diagnosed with the disease without having traveled to an area where COVID-19 is spreading or coming into contact with someone who had recently traveled to an area where it’s spreading. These kinds of cases indicate “community spread.”
It’s important to remember that because it’s a viral infection, those with the disease can’t use antibiotics, and there is currently no vaccine to help protect citizens who are must vulnerable to catching it.
Coronavirus symptoms are similar to the flu, but the illness is different.
People who become infected will have cold and flu-like symptoms including coughs, fever, and other respiratory issues, according CNN. More serious infections might result in lower respiratory issues, and in some cases, even death. If you start noticing these symptoms and you’re not feeling well, you should limit your contact with other people as much as possible, stay at home, and contact health officials to get tested. If your symptoms get worse, it’s important to seek medical attention, but you should call first to alert providers.
According to the CDC, wearing a mask actually won’t help you stay safe from the disease.
Instead, they’re most effective at preventing someone who already has the disease from giving it to someone else. In these cases, they’re most effective at a close-up distance (wearing them while walking around is unlikely to make much of a difference), and they’re a necessity for health officials coming into close contact with the disease every day.
The surgeon general Jerome M. Adams tweeted on Saturday, Feb. 29, “Seriously people—STOP BUYING MASKS. They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
Meanwhile, Dr. Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the health emergency program at the World Health Organization, said during a news conference last week that the best preventative measures are to “wash your hands, keep your hands away from your face, and observe very precise hygiene.” If you’re feeling ill, you’re advised to stay home.
Elderly individuals and those with health issues and compromised immune systems are most at risk.
According to the White House, the first person to die from the disease in Washington was in his 50s and already had health issues before he contracted coronavirus.
Many people who were diagnosed with the illness around the world have since recovered, and it appears that those who already have bad health or are elderly are at the highest risk for dying from it.
In the Hubei province of China where the outbreak originated, the mortality rate is around 2 to 4 percent, while it’s believed to be about 1 percent or less in other areas. For comparison, this means that COVID-19 is thought to be at least 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu, according to The Guardian.
The White House announced new travel restrictions on Feb. 29 as an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
At this time, the Trump administration has issued the highest-level travel advisories suggesting that citizens don’t travel to parts of Italy and South Korea, which are both struggling with spread of the disease. Travelers coming from those two countries will be screened at the border.
In addition, any foreign citizen who has visited Iran in the last 14 days won’t be able to enter the United States.
This is likely just the start of the administration’s travel restrictions as the virus continues to spread.
The Trump administration and other governments around the world are still learning about the new coronavirus and how best to contain it, so it’s important to make sure to wash your hands, practice good hygiene, and try to limit your travel to heavily impacted areas until a vaccine is developed.