Here are some frequently asked questions about the novel coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. What’s below is based on information available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and local health officials.
What is “novel coronavirus”?
Novel coronavirus is a new strain, not previously identified in humans, of a family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The novel coronavirus, also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was first identified in the city of Wuhan, China in December 2019. Since then, it spread rapidly around the globe. The World Health Organization has classified COVID-19 as a pandemic, meaning that it has been detected in almost every nation on earth. In addition to China, severe outbreaks have been reported in Iran, Italy and South Korea.
How does novel coronavirus spread?
Because it is a new strain, health officials are still learning details about how it spreads. In general, the virus spreads through respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, breathes or speaks. Those droplets infect others through the air or via surfaces. Scientists don’t yet know exactly how long the virus can survive outside the human body. Scientists believe people with the virus can spread the infection very early in the course of their illness. There is some evidence that the virus may be spread before the infected person displays symptoms. While much remains unknown around the virus and COVID-19, health officials say it is clear that the infection can spread rapidly and reliably through communities.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Though it is a distinct illness, COVID-19 shares several symptoms with the seasonal flu including fever, fatigue, body aches and respiratory symptoms, including a dry cough and shortness of breath. In some cases, these symptoms may become severe. Most deaths from the virus occur when respiratory symptoms progress to pneumonia. Symptoms typically manifest two to 14 days after infection.
How dangerous is COVID-19?
So far more than 5,000 people have died from COVID-19, while more than 70,000 have made a full recovery from the illness. A study by Chinese health officials found a mortality rate from the virus of 2.3 percent. People over age 60 and people with chronic medical conditions afflicting the circulatory and respiratory systems are at highest risk of death from the virus. Eighty percent of all COVID-19 cases are characterized as mild to moderate and do not require hospitalization.
What is the treatment for COVID-19?
Treatment for COVID-19 is similar to that for the seasonal flu. In most cases, people are asked to treat themselves while remaining quarantined in their homes for 14 days. In the most severe cases, patients may require hospitalization. In those cases, medical professionals rely on respirators and other respiratory support techniques to assist patients’ breathing until the symptoms subside.
What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?
People who develop flu-like symptoms that are not immediately life-threatening are urged to contact their regular treatment provider by phone rather than presenting themselves at a doctor’s office or emergency room. Those suspected of having the virus may be asked to make arrangements with a medical facility to come in and be assessed by specially equipped staff in an isolation room. Following assessment and testing, the patient may be asked to go home and self-quarantine for 14 days or, if their symptoms are severe, be admitted to the hospital for treatment. People in Ulster County who do not have or cannot reach their regular treatment provider can call a special hotline set up to field inquiries about COVID-19 at (845) 443-8888.
How can I protect myself from the coronavirus?
Prevention relies on basic hygiene techniques, including frequent hand-washing with soap and hot water. Officials also recommend regular cleaning of frequently touched household surfaces — like doorknobs and faucets — with a disinfectant solution. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control maintains a list of disinfectants approved to kill novel coronavirus. Health officials also recommend that people stay home when they are sick, cover their coughs and sneezes and minimize contact with sick people. As the virus spreads, people may be asked to minimize contact with others, especially in large gatherings and public spaces. “Social distancing” is especially important for older adults and people with chronic medical conditions that may make them more susceptible for complications from the virus. You do not need to wear a mask if you are not sick. In fact, healthy people are urged not to purchase surgical masks as they are in short supply and badly needed by treatment providers who are in regular contact with infected patients.
Where can I learn more?
Reliable scientifically and medically valid information about novel coronavirus and COVID-19 is available through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as well as your state and local health department. Ulster County has set up a page on the county website — https://ulstercountyny.gov/coronavirus — to keep area residents apprised of local developments. Information of New York State’s response to COVID-19 is available at https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus/. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control publishes information about novel coronavirus at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.