Posted by Allison Grant, March 03, 2020 (last updated on September 28, 2020)
For expert resources, please refer to:
- CDC homepage for COVID-19
- WHO outbreak guidance
This post will continue to be updated on a regular basis as more information is available.
Last December, the virus that’s now known as coronavirus (COVID-19) made the jump from animal to human for the first time. What started as a cluster of pneumonia cases near a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China, soon spread into a full-blown “public health emergency.” Since then, coronavirus has spread across the globe to every continent except Antarctica. You’ve seen the numbers. You’ve likely heard a lot of conflicting things. How do you know what’s real, and what’s the result of a worldwide game of telephone? At Solv, we believe education is empowerment. With information coming from literally thousands of different sources, not all credible, it’s important to use discretion when reading (and sharing) news.
In this guide to the coronavirus (COVID-19) in 2020, we’re breaking down science-backed information from our smartest friends at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Though the numbers are changing almost hourly, this guide provides you with a breakdown of what the coronavirus is, who is affected by the outbreak, and what you can do now to keep yourself and your family healthy.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Symptoms of coronavirus can show up anywhere between 2 and 14 days after exposure. According to the CDC, coronavirus symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath or difficult breathing
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle or body aches
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
The CDC has also outlined several "emergency warning signs" for COVID-19 including:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
If you experience any of these symptoms, the CDC recommends seeking immediate medical attention.
More severe cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) have been linked to pneumonia, breathing difficulties, kidney failure, or even death. On the other hand, some people that are infected may not experience any symptoms at all. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (like heart disease or diabetes) may have a higher risk of developing severe complications from coronavirus (COVID-19) and older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes also seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications.
On March 9, 2020, researchers from John Hopkins released results from a study that suggests the median incubation period coronavirus is 5.1 days. These results help provide a more accurate estimate of the disease incubation period and make it easier for epidemiologists to better understand the dynamics of the outbreak. It also allows public health officials to design best practices for quarantine protocol and other control measures. However, keep in mind, recent studies have shown that patients can still have coronavirus up to eight days after symptoms have disappeared.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, remember to call ahead before visiting your healthcare provider to share your symptoms and that you may have COVID-19. This will help providers have the appropriate tests on-hand and prepare the clinic to keep others from getting infected or exposed.
How fast is COVID spreading?
So far, there have been confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in 214 countries and territories, including the United States, leading to over 33.1 million illnesses and over 998,000 deaths. There have been confirmed cases on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. The strain is the newest type of coronavirus with the ability to infect people. Historically, most of these viruses only infect animals like cows, camels, and bats
As far as scientists know, COVID-19 is the seventh type of coronavirus that has evolved to infect humans. Two others are severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) and xMiddle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV).
When the new coronavirus first started infecting people, researchers temporarily named it 2019-nCoV, which stands for “2019 novel coronavirus.” To avoid unofficial names that could be stigmatizing or inaccurate, the WHO announced on February 2, 2020, that the virus would now be called COVID-19, which stands for “Coronavirus Disease 19.”
- Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly
- Keeping away from people that are coughing or sneezing
- Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
Precautions like these are crucial, especially now that it’s been established that people infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) may be contagious before they even start showing any outward symptoms and many infected individuals are asymptomatic.
The WHO declares COVID outbreak a “pandemic”
On March 11, 2020, smartphones across the world pinged with the notification that the WHO had declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a “pandemic.” WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledged that, "This is the first pandemic caused by coronavirus."
The WHO had previously declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency in January, as cases surged in China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Since then, the WHO has outlined a $675 million Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) to fight the spread of the new coronavirus. As part of their plan to contain the outbreak, the WHO has started sending medical supplies to affected countries, training thousands of health workers, and advising countries on best practices for dealing with the virus.
COVID in the United States
The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was reported on January 21, 2020. Since then, over 7.1 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S. and over 204,000 people in the U.S. have died as a result of COVID-19. Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases have been reported in all 50 states and the U.S. now leads the world in both confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.
To address this increase in patients in need of services from the hospital the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on March 31, 2020 that they would loosen some of the restrictions to make it easier for providers to triage and care for patients. Under CMS’s temporary new rules, hospitals will be able to transfer patients to outside facilities, such as ambulatory surgery centers, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, hotels, and dormitories, while still receiving hospital payments under Medicare. For example, a healthcare system can use a hotel to take care of patients needing less intensive care while using its inpatient beds for COVID-19 patients.
On March 6, 2020, Congress and the President approved a bipartisan $8.3 billion spending deal to provide emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreak. The bill includes several allocations of resources including:
- $3 billion for developing treatments or vaccines, this includes $300 million for the U.S. government to purchase drugs from manufacturers at “fair and reasonable” prices.
- $2.2 billion for public health measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
- More than $1 billion to be sent overseas to support efforts to combat coronavirus (COVID-19).
The CDC announce on March 11, 2020 that they are putting over $560 Million toward state and local governments to support them in their efforts to contain and prevent the further spread of coronavirus in their communities. In an effort to further contain coronavirus, the CDC announced on March 15, 2020 that that gatherings of 50 or more people should be postponed or canceled in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The CDC is also sending out laboratory test kits to help medical labs across the country diagnose the virus. The test involves inserting a swab inside a patient's nostril and throat. If the patient has a wet cough, it's also possible that sputum (the mixture of saliva and mucus that is coughed up) will be collected.
On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak which unlocked up to $50 billion dollars for states to deal with the crisis. And on March 16, 2020 cities across the country began to implement "shelter in place" and to only leave their home to seek essential services while the White House put out guidelines for "30 Days to Slow the Spread." However, many states have begun to announce they will be easing their stay in place or shelter in place orders at the end of April or beginning of May to help resume economic activity.
Additional spending and legislative measures have continued as the outbreak in the US continues to spread and have greater impact on the economy.
- March 17: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced that the government will defer up to $300 billion in tax payments, letting individuals to defer up to $1 million and corporations to defer up to $10 million — interest-free and penalty-free for 90 days.
- March 18: President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) which allows the administrations to leverage American industry to manufacture medical supplies (think masks, ventilators, etc.) that are in short supply in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
- March 19: President Trump signed into law a Coronavirus Relief Package with $100 billion to go toward free testing and paid emergency leave for workers among other benefits.
- March 27: Congress and the White House signed a $2 trillion stimulus package called the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security Act or “CARES Act”, aimed at helping businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Over $500 billion of the fund will go directly to bailing out distressed businesses and will also provide direct payments to low- and middle-income families.
- April 22: The Senate and House both passed an additional $484 million funding bill to provider additional relief for small businesses, hospitals and coronavirus testing after the Paycheck Protection Program (part of the CARES Act) already ran out of funding.
- August 10: President Trump took four executive actions to address COVID including a federal eviction ban, a payroll tax suspension, and relief for student borrowers and the unemployed.
How COVID varies from the flu
While the coronavirus is inspiring new headlines every hour, it’s combatting the news that more and more Americans are falling ill with the flu. This flu season so far, in the U.S., the CDC estimates that there have been:
- 39 million flu illnesses
- 410 thousand flu-related hospitalizations
- 24 thousand flu-related deaths
While there are many similarities between the two infections–both can be spread from person to person from coughing, sneezing or talking and both can still be spread by an infected person several days before/after their symptoms appear–but there are also fundamental differences. First, there is a vaccine for the flu, while there still is no vaccine for COVID-19. Second, the death rate of COVID-19 seems to be higher than the death rate of the seasonal flu. Finally, COVID-19 appears to have a reproduction rate (meaning how many people an infected person transmits the disease to) that's much higher than the seasonal flu–potentially twice as high.
Is there a vaccine or cure for COVID?
As of right now, there is no specific medicine or vaccine for the virus. Until a treatment passes clinical trials, support for people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 will focus on managing their symptoms.
In the meantime, researchers are working on developing a vaccine. On March 3, Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases commented in Washington, DC that, “It will take at least a year and a half to have a vaccine we can use.” It may not be ready for another 18 months, but the Director-General of the WHO is confident that they have the tools to contain the virus in the meantime. On March 16, 2020 the first clinical trial for a vaccine began with 45 healthy adults volunteering to be inoculated, and since then at least three other countries have also started vaccine trials. On April 6, 2020, Invio Pharmaceuticals announced they would begin clinical trials in Kansas City and Philadelphia. Similarly, Johnson & Johnson announced they would begin clinical trials on a vaccine as early as September. Companies outside the U.S. are also working on vaccines, CanSino Biologics of China, began a second phase of vaccine testing on April 14, 2020. On May 18, 2020, Moderna announced that the COVID-19 vaccine they've been testing appears to be "safe and able to stimulate an immune response against the virus." Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have moved to the final stage of human testing and Novavax announced encouraging results in two preliminary studies. Johnson & Johnson also began the final stages of a clinical trial in September, 2020. While the trials are still in the early phase, this signals a step in the right direction. As of August 21, 2020, there are at least 165 vaccines in clinical trials and 40 in Phases I-III of human trials.
Early clinical trials have been promising, and there are many potential COVID vaccines in the works, meaning that there may be a COVID vaccine available before the end of 2020. On July 20, 2020 vaccines being developed by University of Oxford researchers and AstraZeneca, Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, and China’s CanSino Biologics all reported fresh updates showing their shots generated immune responses and were safe to use. The U.S. has also announced a nearly $2 billion contract with Pfizer and a German biotechnology company for 100 vaccine million doses by December, 2020. Johnson & Johnson also plans to launch what could become the largest clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine to date in September, enlisting up to 60,000 people world-wide to test its COVID vaccine.
In addition, there have been some successful drugs for treatment of coronavirus. In the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is allowing state health departments to distribute Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir drug to fight COVID-19 due it's promise in helping treat some patients following a preliminary report published in The New England Journal of Medicine. In addition, a synthetic steroid, Dexamethasone, has also shown promise in helping to save seriously ill coronavirus patients' lives in a randomized, controlled trial according to British researchers. On August 24, 2020 the FDA also issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma as a potential treatment for hospitalized patients due to COVID.
Everything else you need to know about COVID-19
Your risk for transmission living in the U.S.
As our collective understanding of coronavirus is evolving, there is growing evidence to suggest that many infected individuals are not showing symptoms and that represents an increased transmission risk from an infected person who isn't displaying symptoms or hasn't yet recognized symptoms. There has also been an increase in community transmission across the country so the CDC has updated their recommendations for risk if any of the following apply to you:
- You share a household with someone symptomatic of COVID-19
- You are an intimate partner of someone symptomatic of COVID-19
- You are providing care in a household of someone symptomatic of COVID-19 without using recommended infection control precautions
- You have had close contact (<6ft) for a prolonged period of time with someone symptomatic of COVID-19
In those cases the CDC recommends the following:
- Stay home until 14 days after the last exposure and maintain social distance (at least 6ft) from others at all times
- Self-monitor for symptoms
- Check temperature twice a day
- Watch for fever, cough or shortness of breath
- Avoid contact with people at higher risk of sever illness (unless they live in the same household and had the same exposure)
- Follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop
All other U.S. residents are recommended to be alert for symptoms, to practice social distancing, and to follow CDC guidelines if symptoms develop. However, travelers, health care and essential workers and critical infrastructure workers are a special exception to the above and the CDC recommends following guidance that include special consideration for these groups.
If you think you may be infected with coronavirus (COVID-19), call your doctor before you go in.
This will give them a chance to take steps to keep others from being exposed to the virus. Other than going to the doctor, you avoid leaving your house or having close contact with other people, to help prevent the spread of the virus.
6 tips to protect yourself from COVID
1) Wash your hands.
You can never wash your hands enough. Use soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
2) Stock up on disinfectant
Bacteria can be tricky and can survive on surfaces for quite some time. Make sure you're eliminating any lingering virus by wiping down and spraying any surfaces regularly, especially frequently-touched objects, such as your cell phone and computer keyboard.
3) Stay home if you're sick
If you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, stay home from school or work. If you believe you need medical attention call your doctor or urgent care clinic ahead of time and tell them your recent travel and symptoms.
4) Avoid touching your face
Your eyes, nose and mouth are the easiest way for bacteria to get into your system. Keep your hands by your side to avoid accidentally ingesting any harmful bacteria.
5) Wear a Mask
Many individuals who are infected with coronavirus do not show symptoms–protect yourself and others by wearing cloth face coverings when in public.
6) Keep your distance
Keep at least three six between you and anyone who might be coughing or sneezing. This can help prevent any bacteria from making its way over to you.
Your health insurance may not cover COVID treatment
If you catch coronavirus (COVID-19), your health insurance should cover all related medical expenses like they would if you had the flu. However, if you got sick while you were traveling in a foreign country, things can get trickier. Every insurance policy is different, and some may not cover treatments or illnesses that happen outside of the U.S.
The best time to figure out your health insurance coverage and benefits is before you need them. The Solv app helps you understand what your insurance covers, tracks your deductible, and shows what you can expect to pay for care. Download now.
Learn how your state department of public health is responding to COVID
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