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 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.
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.
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.
Check out WIRED’s coronavirus FAQs.
Testing and Treatment
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.
accine development is also underway. Clinical trials have begun for two promising candidates, though it’s probable a vaccine won’t be available until early next year. And even then, it won’t be available to everyone at once, some supplies in high demand may be difficult to come by, making it viable for children will be another hurdle, and purportedly mild side effects could still be pretty unpleasant.
For the time being, generic drugs could prove helpful to those battling Covid-19. Blood from recovered patients is also promising. Though we don’t know exactly how effective it is and getting it to those in need is a challenge, the FDA recently okayed its emergency use. And AI is being used to accelerate everything from diagnosis to drug discovery. Most of all, it’s important to remember that finding treatments take time and there are a lot of dubious theories circulating online. Whatever you do, please don’t try drinking bleach.
Meanwhile, hospitals are redesigning their facilities and retooling readily available devices to accommodate the influx of Covid-19 patients and prepare for more strain come flu season. Elsewhere, engineers and manufacturers are racing to make more ventilators and PPE.
Epidemiology and Tracking
We know that the virus is passed from person to person when someone coughs or sneezes, or when someone touches a surface it has landed on. But there’s still some uncertainty about how likely the virus is to spread through air and whether your risk of catching it is the same when you’re outdoors. Germy dust could also be a disease vector. Outbreaks spread exponentially at first but that rate slows over time, especially if additional measures are taken to flatten the curve. And some researchers are exploring the possibility that the virus could return seasonally like the common cold.
Some countries opted for a strict lockdown. Others, like South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, seemed to have squashed the curve early on thanks to widespread testing and tracing efforts. Though travellers coming from the US and Europe later spurred an increase of cases, there’s still a lot for the US to learn. As far as disseminating information, censorship has proven to be an issue worldwide.
To build useful models and fully understand the coronavirus, we need to know how it has spread. Right now, lots of countries are either using smartphone apps and location data to track the spread of the virus or are working to put a contact tracing system in place. To mitigate concern that this contact tracing would be an infringement of privacy, companies like Apple and Google are collaborating on a Bluetooth-based system that would track coronavirus and notify people who have been exposed without surveilling users.
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Author: Eve Sneider