Your Questions


How dangerous is COVID-19?

COVID-19’s severity varies majorly depending on your age and any comorbidities which you have. The case:fatality rate, e.g. how many people contract the virus and then die as a result, is around 4.39% in the United States. Of those who die, 92% are over the age of 55 (7/8/20 CDC data). About a third, 33.13%, of all COVID-19 related deaths are from individuals older than 85.

Why is COVID-19 so much more powerful than other viruses?

COVID-19 is more “powerful” than other viruses due to its pathology (the way it affects the body) and how easily it spreads compared to some other viruses. Its effects greatly resemble those of SARS and MERS, as it attacks the lungs and the body’s immune system. In infrequent cases, acute respiratory distress syndrome, a complication in which one’s lungs fill up with fluid, occurs. This is particularly dangerous for older individuals. Some papers suggest that the virus can induce a cytokine storm, while others declare that the term is simply a buzzword. Cytokines are a category of proteins essential for mounting an immune response, but when over-released, the body can overreact and attack organs which are essential. There is limited evidence that this occurs in severe cases of COVID-19. Overall, more peer-reviewed research needs to be published on COVID-19’s pathology.

Where is coronavirus most likely to spread?

COVID-19 is most likely to spread at large in-person gatherings such as concerts, sporting events, and conferences because people will have trouble social distancing. At these gatherings, attendees from various places and of various exposure to the virus congregate, increasing the risk for all. Prolonged and/or intimate exposure to other people in poorly or excessively ventilated places, termed “ super-spreaders,” increases the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.

Who is more likely to suffer more severely from coronavirus?

Those of old age or with chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, sickle cell disease, type 2 diabetes, serious heart conditions, or who have recently had a solid organ transplant are more likely to suffer more severely from coronavirus. People with hypertension, type 2 diabetes, or obesity in particular are more likely to suffer more severely from coronavirus. These conditions are comorbid with COVID-19.

What additional cleaning/disinfecting measures are necessary?

In theory, it is possible to get COVID-19 from a package if infected respiratory droplets are present and the recipient touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth after touching the package. The virus can live on cardboard for up to a day. However, there is no evidence that packaging significantly increases the spread of coronavirus. It is unlikely to contract the virus this way, especially from a package shipped over a long period of time at ambient temperatures. It is far more important to wash your hands properly before eating an item from the grocery store than to disinfect the package in which it came. A general recommendation is to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like tables, desks, light switches, electronic devices, and handles. Gloves should be worn during this process. It is also of importance to clean electronics like cell phones because they are equally exposed to the virus as their carrier; they can be disinfected with alcohol-based wipes or a solution with at least 70% alcohol. Be sure to dry all surfaces after cleaning them.

What’s the difference between a surgical face mask and a cloth face mask?

The goal of face masks, whether they are surgical, cloth/homemade, or N95, is to block the transfer of respiratory droplets between the wearer and other people around them. A cloth mask can prevent the spread of the virus by blocking these droplets during normal speech and activity. Surgical masks do block the spread of the droplets, but they also protect the wearer. For a guide on how to make a cloth mask, here is a tutorial by Surgeon General of the United States, Jerome Adams.

Can I get coronavirus from my pet?

Currently, there is limited research regarding the interspecies transmission of COVID-19. Some species, such as Syrian hamsters, have been shown to spread the virus to other hamsters of the same species. However, pets spreading the virus to humans is a relatively low-risk threat according to the FDA. Some animals have actually tested positive for COVID-19 after interacting with a person who was infected. Therefore, the FDA recommends social distancing guidelines should also be followed by pets when outside of the home.

How does coronavirus testing work?

There are two types of diagnostic testing: molecular testing and antigen testing. In molecular testing, a swab is inserted into a patient’s nasal passage. A throat swab can also be used instead. This is the most accurate form of coronavirus testing. Results can be given the same day or within a week. In antigen testing, typically more “rapid” than molecular testing, a nasal or throat swab is used. Results are ready within an hour. While this form of testing is faster than molecular testing and positive results are almost always accurate, negative results might need to be confirmed with a molecular test. For more details on antibody testing, see the below question!

What is an antibody (serological) test? Is it accurate?

An antibody test looks to see if your immune system has developed antibodies in response to coronavirus. Blood is drawn through a finger stick to detect these antibodies, with results available the same day or within the next three days. Unlike molecular and antigen testing, antibody testing only shows if you have been previously affected by coronavirus.

Can you contract COVID-19 more than once? Is it true that if you contract COVID-19 once that you are less likely to get it again?

Information regarding the possibility of contracting COVID-19 more than once is still being gathered, and as a result we do not yet have a complete picture. The CDC suggests that if a person tests positive, then later tests negative, and then tests positive again at least 6 weeks after the negative test, clinicians ought to consider the possibility that the patient caught it again ( CDC). While we are still not sure if it is possible to catch COVID-19 a second time, we do know that most patients who contract COVID-19 produce antibodies, which function as a defense against the disease; the antibodies have been shown to fight the virus in test tubes, but it is not currently known to what extent they do so within the human body.

How long does coronavirus stay on surfaces such as masks?

It is thought that coronavirus remains on surfaces usually between a period of 2 hours and 4 days ( CDC). If you are not sure about the cleanliness of an object, it is safest to clean it as indicated here.

What progress has been made on a vaccine? How close is a vaccine to being developed?

As of July 9, 2020, there are currently 145 vaccines in development targeting SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These vaccines can use genetic (DNA/RNA), viral vectors, proteins, or a whole weakened virus as platforms. The Academy of Military Medical Sciences in China currently has an approved vaccine only available to members of the Chinese military. Some vaccines, such as University of Oxford and Pfizer vaccines have their sights set on delivering vaccines by late 2020. For more current information, please see the live Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker from the New York Times.

How soon after exposure will you test positive?

It will take around 2-14 days after exposure to the virus to potentially test positive. This typically manifests in a 5-7 day incubation period for the virus, meaning that it will normally take this long after exposure for a test to appear positive. If you get tested around 3 days after the onset of symptoms, you will have the least chance of getting a false negative result ( Harvard).

Are the government’s policy decisions based on scientific findings?

The US government is working with the CDC and taking their recommendations into account while creating policy decisions. The ultimate policy decisions will be some mix of what is recommended to them by the health community and what is deemed practical and constitutional uses of governmental power. We suggest you make informed individual decisions based off of the currently available research, while also considering governmental advice.

What does it mean if you have antibodies for coronavirus?

An antibody is a molecule used by the immune system to battle infection. If you have them, it means your body's immune system has fought the virus which causes COVID-19, or in very rare cases, a virus very similar to it before. There is still debate amongst the medical community on what the importance of antibodies is in relation to COVID-19 and how long they last for. Like many other viruses, you can catch it again - antibodies are not guarenteed immunity. You should continue protecting yourself and others with suggested measures.

Social Distancing

Why does it appear that social distancing has disappeared from our society?

According to this paper published in Science, social distancing in varied forms may need to be in effect until 2022 to curb the virus’ spread. However, due to the many negative implications strict social distancing has had on the world’s economy and scientific output, mandates have been continually easing. For many Americans, especially those in the lower quartile of earnings, staying home is not possible as their jobs do not offer telework options. This paradigm is the leading factor which drives low-income communities to become most infected with the virus.

What is the best way to contain the virus? What are the best precautions to avoid contracting coronavirus?

The easiest way to contain the virus is to understand precisely how it spreads. Infection is transmitted through large droplets generated during coughing and sneezing by symptomatic patients but can also occur from asymptomatic people and before onset of symptoms. Most commonly, this occurs when you are within 6 feet of an infected person. According to the CDC, the best way to avoid illness is avoid exposure. Simple tips to prevent spreading the virus are to be mindful and not leave the house if you display any of the common symptoms, cover your nose and mouth with a mask, avoid close contact with others and touching your face, and wash your hands frequently. Per CDC guidelines, everyone should wash hands often and use an alcohol based hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol content, avoiding close contact with others (including maintaining 6 feet of social distance), wearing face protection, covering coughs and sneezes, maintaining good cleaning (with disinfectant) and hygiene practices, and monitoring your health with temperature checks and checking for symptoms. Please visit the CDC for more information.

Is this sustainable?

COVID-19 has deeply affected the world’s economies. It could take up to five years for certain business sectors in the United States to return to normal contribution levels. The Federal Reserve, the United States’ central banking system, has spent over $3 trillion in attempts to save the economy from a possible recession. Due to much of the workforce being unable to work, or work less than they would like to, the Trump Administration continues to push for economic reopening despite COVID-19 cases being at their highest levels.

How long will quarantine last?

To be totally honest, no one knows. In order for everyone to be safe, scientists have suggested we need to reach a critical mass of people who have been infected with the virus to protect us through herd immunity. This may not be possible by natural means (Pollan) so we would need a vaccine for quarantine to end. Large pharmaceutical companies estimate that we may have a vaccine by the fall. Activities like sports and social gatherings will be able to fully begin once a vaccine comes out.

What are possible ways to contract the virus?

Can you eat the virus? Can you catch it through sweat? Currently there is no evidence that coronavirus can be spread through sweat or through consumption of the virus. Coronavirus is through to mainly spread via respiratory droplets that are released when people talk, sneeze, cough, etc. These droplets can remain on surfaces for a few hours up to days, so it is best to take proper hand washing and disinfecting measures after touching a surface that was recently used by someone else.

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