It’s been more than six months since the first known case of coronavirus surfaced in China, the threat of the virus overtook normal life stateside, and phrases like “social distancing” and “contact tracing” became lodged in our collective vocabulary. From rising unemployment statistics to promising drug trials, new information about this pandemic emerges constantly, and dozens of theories about how the disease spreads and can be treated get advanced or disproven on any given day. As we head into fall, questions loom large about everything from reopening schools to the start of flu season. We’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know about this pandemic—be it how to keep your children entertained or how this outbreak is affecting the economy. We’ll be updating it regularly to help you keep track of all aspects of this rapidly evolving situation.
What the coronavirus is, and when it became a pandemic
The 2019 coronavirus is one of hundreds we know of, and one of seven known to infect humans. These viruses affect the lungs and also cause fever and sometimes gastrointestinal problems. The WHO declared the coronavirus situation a global emergency in January and a pandemic in mid-March.
The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath. Others include diarrhea and loss of smell or taste. Some people develop severe blood clots. The disease is mercurial—fairly mild for some and fatal for others. Scientists can’t say definitively why, but women are less likely to die than men. We know that older people, especially those with underlying health issues, are more at risk. And children fare better than adults, but for babies, toddlers, and kids with other conditions the disease can be severe.
Social distancing and safety issues
Social distancing is about staying away from other people for long enough to slow the spread of the virus. When you do have to be near others, like at the grocery store, while delivering food, or going for a walk, the CDC recommends staying 6 feet away. To enforce this, many states implemented shelter in place orders. As places have started to reopen—and, in some cases, rolled back reopening plans—everyone has questions about what’s safe. And scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how the virus spreads through air, especially in dense cities. To navigate life amidst the pandemic, some public health experts have also begun making color-coded guides.
How long coronavirus lasts on surfaces (and how to disinfect them)
Coronavirus can last for up to two or three days on some surfaces, so it’s important to regularly clean and disinfect your home and belongings, especially things you’re touching all the time like doorknobs, remote controls, and counters. And of course you should wash your hands! You’ll want soap or disinfectant, but if you can’t find any in stores you can also make your own sanitizer.
Wearing and making masks
The CDC recommends wearing a mask in public places where social distancing measures are hard to maintain. They’re now a must-have. Surgical masks should be reserved for medical workers and first responders, but there are lots of good cloth options. That said, remember that not all masks were created equal. When in doubt, all you need to make your own cloth mask are a t-shirt and two rubber bands.
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Testing and Treatment
The latest testing updates
The US is still struggling to meet the demand for testing. At present, guidance as to whether people without symptoms should get tested is entirely unclear. And many people are waiting so long to get their results back that by the time they do, it doesn’t mean anything. Many companies are developing tests that can test patients at the point of care and produce results quickly, and four were approved by the FDA. Others are focusing on affordable options. Plus, antibody testing is becoming more widespread, though the results are mixed so far and the FDA recently tightened its regulations.
At the moment, there’s no definitive treatment for Covid-19. Some researchers investigated chloroquine, the malaria drug touted by President Trump, but there’s no evidence that it’s a viable treatment, though its ‘cousin’ amodiaquine shows some promise. Others are looking into using an anti-influenza drug and Crispr to treat the disease. The antiviral Remdesivir has also proven helpful, though expensive. The hope is that research will find old drugs effective for treating Covid-19, thereby simplifying the drug discovery process. All in all, though, Covid-19 drug research so far is a mess.