Updated March 31 at 11:50 a.m.
As cases of coronavirus spread across the Midwest, we know there are lots of questions about it -- including how to avoid getting sick. We also know there's plenty of misinformation about this new virus, so we want to help you sort fact from fiction.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or text “health” to 73224, and we'll find the answers.
What is coronavirus and COVID-19?
Coronavirus is actually a large family of viruses – including MERS and SARS. COVID-19 is the most recently discovered coronavirus.
Who is at risk for the virus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions – like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes – are at higher risk for serious illness. Kids seem less vulnerable, so far, according to NPR.
The CDC recommends everyone take steps to prevent the spread of the virus: frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact.
Even if you aren’t in a high-risk group, taking these steps will help protect people who are.
So, how does this virus spread?
Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets, says the CDC. So, people coughing and sneezing into the air, or into their hands and then touching surfaces, can spread the virus – based on the information the CDC and World Health Organization have at the moment.
The WHO says the risk of catching COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms at all is very low. However, many people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms – so it’s completely possible to contract the virus from someone with a mild cough and who isn’t feeling ill.
Researchers aren't sure how long droplets of the new coronavirus remain infectious on phones, but similar coronaviruses can survive on surfaces from a few hours up to a few days, depending on the environment, says the WHO.
But public health officials say: keep your distance from people and don’t kiss.
How do I prepare for COVID-19?
Similar to how you should prepare for the flu: stock up on food and water, as well as any daily medications for three weeks. This isn’t because health officials think there’s going to be a run on grocery stores, but instead, because if you have COVID-19, you should avoid going into crowds – a concept called “social distancing.”
Have your go-to sick food: chicken or vegetable broth, and hydrating drinks like Pedialyte and Gatorade.
(My go to is tomato soup and grilled cheese. My dad’s is baked potatoes and toast.)
That's because if you do get sick, you want to be ready to ride it out at home if need be. So far, 80 percent of COVID-19 cases have been mild.
What kind of cleaning supplies do I need?
Hand soap. Hand soap. And more hand soap. Frequent hand washing (for at least 20 seconds) prevents the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to that, most coronaviruses are killed by alcohol or bleach-based household cleaners.
OK. But face masks.
Unless you’ve already got COVID-19 (or taking care of someone who has the virus), the World Health Organization says you’re wasting a mask by wearing one. And there’s already a worldwide shortage of suitable masks for health care workers.
According to NPR: Some infectious disease experts are reluctant to recommend that people wear masks as a preventive measure because they can provide a false sense of security.
Some research suggests that wearing a mask can help protect you if you're caring for a sick family member, but only if you wear it all the time in the presence of the sick person and if you are careful not to touch the front of it, which could be contaminated with pathogens.
Where is COVID-19 already in the U.S.?
Since Jan. 21, health officials have identified more than 140,900 cases of COVID-19 in the United States and 2,405 deaths.
According to the CDC, there are now confirmed cases in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Indiana reported its first case on Friday March 6. As of 11:59 p.m. on Monday, March 30 that number was 2,159, and 45 people in Indiana have died as a result of COVID-19.
This is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. However, we recommend checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Indiana State Department of Health for the most recent numbers of COVID-19 cases.