What is the coronavirus and COVID-19?
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.
New information about the COVID-19 variants are emerging everyday as scientists continue to learn more about the coronavirus disease.
What are variants?
A variant is a different form/version of something. In this case, variants of the coronavirus result from mutations of the virus underlying COVID-19 that occur over time. Similar to any living organism, viruses can evolve over time and adopt different characteristics.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, more variants will emerge.
Different types of variants
- This variant was first discovered in the United Kingdom (U.K.) in September 2020.
- This variant also spreads more quickly and easily than other variants.
- There is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.
- There are cases of this variant in the U.S. and Canada and around the world.
- This variant was first discovered in South Africa in October 2020.
- This variant shares similar mutations with the variant found in the U.K., but is independent from the variant in U.K.
- There have been no reported cases in the U.S., but there have been outside of South Africa.
- This variant was first discovered at a screening checkpoint in Tokyo, Japan when four people traveled from Brazil.
- It has been discovered that there are a few mutations that may affect this variant’s ability to be recognized by antibodies.
- There have been no reported cases in the U.S.
Scientists are discovering new things about these variants, and will continue to learn about COVID-19 as time progresses.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and most people will experience mild to moderate symptoms. However, people with underlying medical conditions and those over 60 years of age have a higher risk for developing severe symptoms.
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.3
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
When to Seek Emergency Medical Attention
Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately3:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
This is not a list of all possible symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
What can you do to protect yourself and those around you?
Practice social distancing
Staying inside and away from large crowds will help stop the spread of the virus.
Stay home when you’re sick
If you start to experience symptoms similar to those listed above, self-isolate immediately for a at least 15 days, and contact the appropriate local authorities to ensure that you and those around you are safe.
More everyday actions you can practice:
– Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and discard the tissue in the trash.
– Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
– The CDC recommends wearing a face mask at all times while in public
– Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
What is Contact-Tracing?
Contact-tracing is a strategy of monitoring infected people and notifying the people they’ve come into contact with. 4
Contact-tracing is an important strategy that could slow the spread of COVID-19 and control the rate of transmission.
Here is a video, provided by the CDC, on how COVID-19 can spread in a community.
What You Need to Know About Hand-Washing
Brought to you by the CDC
According to the CDC, face masks/coverings should:
- fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- be secured with ties or ear loops
- include multiple layers of fabric
- allow for breathing without restriction
- be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
How to Choose a Better Mask
The CDC recommends wearing masks that fit snug and secure on your face to reduce the rate of transmissions. Masks should be wore at all times when in public spaces or surrounds by individuals not from your household.
Here are a couple of videos provided by the CDC website on how to make your own face coverings at home:
Prevention for Older Adults
Here are a few tips for older adults to stay safe during this pandemic1:
- Reschedule all non-essential doctor appointments
- Self-isolate from friends/family
- If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, follow the guidelines outlined by your state, and seek medical help.
According to the CDC, older adults and people with underlying conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at a higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19.2
Understanding your immune system 11
When a virus enters your body, there are 3 tools that your immune system uses to fight it off:
- Macrophages: these white blood cells swallow and digest germs and dead/dying cells.
- B-lymphocytes: these defensive white blood cells produce antibodies that attack whatever is left behind by the macrophages.
- T-lymphocytes: these defensive white blood cells attack cells that have already been infected.
The body will also produce extra T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes, known as memory cells, to protect the body if the virus enters the body again.
Antigens are unique molecular structures on the outside of pathogens. To be able to fight the virus and recognize it in the future, the body needs to create antibodies that “fit” exactly with each unique antigen.
Understanding vaccines 12
Vaccines typically have either weakened or inactive parts of an antigen that triggers an immune response in the body.
Whether it’s weakened or inactive, the vaccine will not cause the disease in the person receiving the vaccine, but it will trigger their immune system to respond just as it would if the actual disease were to enter the body.
Check out this video on understanding the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines by the Aging and Brain Health Alliance at Rutgers University:
Types of vaccines 11
As of December 2020, there are three main types of COVID-19 vaccines that are undergoing Phase 3 clinical trials in the USA. None of these vaccines can give you COVID-19.
- mRNA Vaccines: this kind of vaccine contains genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19. This material gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. Once our body recognizes this protein, our immune system will start to create T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus in the future if necessary.
- Protein subunit Vaccines: this kind of vaccine contains harmless proteins of the virus that cause COVID-19. This triggers your immune system to make T-lymphocytes and antibodies so, if ever infected in the future, memory cells will recognize and fight the virus.
- Vector Vaccines: this kind of vaccine contains a weakened version of a live virus (not the virus that causes COVID-19) that contains genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 inside it, which is also known as a viral vector. Once this viral vector is inside of our body, it gives our cells instructions to create a protein that is unique to the virus that causes COVID-19. This triggers our immune system to create T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus if necessary in the future.
Cleaning Your Home8
- Wear reusable or disposable gloves for routine cleaning and disinfection
- Clean surfaces using soap and water, then use disinfectant
- Clean or launder items according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds
- If someone is sick, keep a separate bedroom and bathroom for the person who is sick (if possible)
For more information on how to properly clean and disinfect your home, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html
- The risk of getting COVID-19 from food you cook yourself, or from handling and consuming food from restaurants and takeout or drive-thru meals is thought to be very low. Currently, there is no evidence that food is associated with spreading the virus that causes COVID-19
- The risk of infection by the virus from food products, food packaging, or bags is thought to be very low. Currently, no cases of COVID-19 have been identified where infection was thought to have occurred by touching food, food packaging, or shopping bags
- Although some people who work in food production and processing facilities have gotten COVID-19, there is no evidence of the virus spreading to consumers through the food or packaging that workers in these facilities may have handled
Food Safety in the kitchen
- The virus that causes COVID-19 cannot grow on food. Although bacteria can grow on food, a virus requires a living host like a person or animal to multiply
- Currently, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads to people through food. However, it is important to safely handle and continue to cook foods to their recommended cooking temperatures to prevent food-borne illnesses
- The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been found in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates water treatment plants to ensure that treated water is safe to drink
For more information on food safety, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/food-and-COVID-19.html
- Stay home if sick
- Use online services when available
- Wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain
- Use social distancing (stay at least 6 feet away from others)
- Use hand sanitizer after leaving stores
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you get home
For more information on safety precautions when going out, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/personal-social-activities.html
Another symptom of this pandemic, one that few people realize, is misinformation.
Due to the fact that COVID-19 is a newly discovered virus and disease, the health-science community are still learning about this virus as we deal with it. However, people have taken advantage of the panic to create even more panic by spreading misinformation online.
Misinformation about symptoms, cures, and causes of this virus can do more harm than the virus itself.
Examples of Misinformation about COVID-19
Here are a few examples of the misinformation being spread online:
The image above shows a claim that Japan is now experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections after lifting quarantine measures.6
However, only the country’s northernmost island has experienced a second spike of COVID-19 cases.
The image below shows a Facebook post that went viral claiming that a 19 year-0ld female was hospitalized with a lung infection because she was breathing in her own breath due to the mandated face mask covering 7.
However, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that a person can develop a lung infection from breathing in their own breath.
This kind of misinformation can cause people to disregard the CDC’s recommendation and increase the spread of COVID-19 and deaths caused by the virus.
To prevent misinformation from continuing to spread online, learn how to verify the information you read by checking out our page on internet safety and “getting a second opinion.”
To verify information specific to COVID-19, check out Poynter’s The CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance Database.
Here are some helpful links for trusted information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Administration for Community Living
- Center for Disease Control & Prevention
- New York Times Live Updates
- New York Times: How to Protect Older Adults From the Coronavirus
- CDC: Contact-Tracing Principles
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the publication of scientific papers with hopes of understanding this novel virus. If you’re interested in reading scientific papers, check out this article from the New York Times.
- “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” ACL Administration for Community Living, https://acl.gov/COVID-19
- “Older Adults.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html.
- “Symptoms of Coronavirus.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 May 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
- “Contact Tracing: Part of a Multipronged Approach to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/principles-contact-tracing.html.
- “UN Launches New Initiative to Fight COVID-19 Misinformation through ‘Digital First Responders’ || UN News.” United Nations, United Nations, news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1064622
- “VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Only Hokkaido, NOT Whole Japan, Facing 2nd Wave of COVID-19 Cases.” Vera Files, verafiles.org/articles/vera-files-fact-check-only-hokkaido-not-whole-japan-facing-2
- “Facebook Posts Spread Unsupported Anonymous Claim That Face Mask Use Caused a Lung Infection in a Healthy Teenager.” Health Feedback, 5 June 2020, healthfeedback.org/claimreview/facebook-posts-spread-unsupported-anonymous-claim-that-face-mask-use-caused-a-lung-infection-in-a-healthy-teenager.
- “Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html.
- “Food and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/food-and-COVID-19.html.
- “Errands and Going Out.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/going-out.html.
- “Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/how-they-work.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fvaccines%2Fabout-vaccines%2Fhow-they-work.html.
- “How do vaccines work?”, World Health Organization, www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/covid-19-vaccines/how-do-vaccines-work.
- “New COVID-19 Variants”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html