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Just the Facts: COVID-19

Posted by on March 24th, 2020 Posted in: Blog, NLM Resources, Public Health
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“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country.” Dr. Nancy Messonnier stated at a news conference about COVID-19 given on Tuesday 2/25/2020. Dr. Messonnier is the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

For this month’s blog post I had hoped to write about nutrition since March is “nutrition awareness” month. However, with so much public angst and non-stop media coverage being given to COVID-19, organizations like NLM take their mission of improving public health by making trustworthy health information available to everyone, very seriously. Therefore, it is important to us here in the NER to provide the best information we have for, up-to-date health information, based on facts, about the recent coronavirus outbreak.

This week’s blog post will answer a few of the COVID-19 questions we have heard from our network.

What is coronavirus and COVID-19?

Coronavirus is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the recent outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

How many people and what countries have been affected by this virus?

The World Health Organization has developed an interactive world map they are continuously updating with data identifying countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and number of deaths caused by it.


Is COVID-19 more contagious than the flu?

Epidemiologists explain how contagious a disease is with reproductive numbers. The reproductive number represents the average number of people that one infected person will infect. This number can be reduced by altering transmission dynamics—with social distancing, home isolation, quarantine, and use of personal protective equipment in health care settings. Over time as people are infected and recover—or if a vaccine becomes available (which may take months or years)—immunity in the population also reduces the effective reproductive number of a disease.


To control an outbreak, the goal is to reduce a disease’s reproductive number to less than 1. If the reproductive number remains 1 or higher, the outbreak will continue. In the case of COVID-19, the estimated reproductive number is around 2.6, meaning the outbreak is expected to continue.

COVID-19 is contagious because it travels through the air, when a sick person, breaths, talks, coughs or sneezes. The virus spreads through the expelled droplets that fall to the ground or on other surfaces. Coronavirus can only travel about 6-feet, we don’t know how long the virus can live on surfaces. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. It also might be possible to spread COVID-19 before showing symptoms, but this is not considered the main way the virus spreads. People are thought to be most contagious when they are the sickest.

Seasonal flu is a less contagious virus than COVID-19.  The spread of flu can be slowed by access to vaccines as well as immunity from past epidemics. On average, people infected with the flu tend to infect 1.3 other people.


What are the symptoms of COVID-19 and are the symptoms similar to the flu?

Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. These symptoms have ranged from mild to severe and may appear 2-14 days after exposure the virus. The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully understood. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe, including illness resulting in death. While information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illness is mild, a report out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases. Older people and people with certain underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example, seem to be at greater risk of serious illness.


What are the symptoms of flu?

Flu signs and symptoms usually come on suddenly. People who are sick with flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • *Fever or feeling feverish/chills. * It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Because mild cases of COVID-19 and the flu share some common symptoms, it is possible to pass on COVID-19 to others without knowing it.


What can I do to personally prepare for COVID-19?

The CDC has been clear in their message to Americans. Be prepared for a possible outbreak in your community.

What does being prepared look like? Prepare for CVID-19 as you would for any other natural disaster, such as a hurricane.

  • Stock up on non-perishable food, prescription medications and other medications such as fever reducers like Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen.
  • Wipe down frequently touched surfaces with soap and water or bleach wipes or alcohol.
  • Have a conversation with your boss now about the possibility of working from home is COVID-19 is spreading locally.
  • Create a backup plan for childcare if daycare centers in your area are closed.
  • Make a plan for how to care for older family members or relatives if you are not able to provide that care due to sickness or inability to travel.

The following are easy precautions each one of us can take to lessen our chances of spreading and catching this virus:

  • Wash your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Cough into your elbow
  • Stay home if you are sick and if you have a fever, refrain from going places where you could spread your illness to others until you are fever-free for 24 hours without medication.
  • Get your flu shot

How effective is wearing a mask as protection against catching COVID-19?

“The mask itself can become contaminated and serve as a source of infection, actually doing more harm than good,” states Dr. Jonathan Grein, Medical Director of Cedars-Sinai Hospital Epidemiology. “If wearing a mask, I caution touching it.” The CDC also doesn’t recommend to the general public using facemasks as a method of protection from coronavirus or other respiratory illnesses. “You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it,” the CDC said. “A facemask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms. This is to protect others from the risk of getting infected.”

What is the treatment for COVID-19?

People who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact their healthcare provider immediately. There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.


How long before a vaccine will be available for COVID-19?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases hopes to have a Phase 1 trial starting within the next three months, barring any unforeseen obstacles. However, Dr. Fauci warns that after initial trials it still takes time to for testing to make sure a vaccine is safe and effective. In a best-case scenario, Dr. Fauci predicts a vaccine is at least 1 year away from becoming available to the public.

Where can I find more trusted and up-to-date information about COVID-19?

NLM’s homepage refers you to more trusted health and medical resources for COVID-19, take a look https://www.nlm.nih.gov/index.html#Novel_Coronavirus

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NNLM Region 7
University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655
(508) 856-5985

This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School.

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