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COVID-19: What is it, and how can I protect myself?

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What is COVID-19 and how can I protect myself?

Response from Pritish K. Tosh, MD

A new virus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been identified as the cause of an outbreak of the disease that began in China in 2019. The disease is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). .

In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health groups, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the WHO, are monitoring the pandemic and posting updated information on their websites. These groups have also issued recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus.

How does the coronavirus spread?

Data show that the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) primarily spreads from person to person among those who are in close contact (within about 6 feet, or 2 meters). The virus is spread by respiratory droplets released when a person who has the virus coughs, sneezes, breathes, sings, or talks. These droplets can be inhaled or land in the mouth, nose, or eyes of a nearby person.

In some cases, the COVID-19 virus can spread when a person is exposed to small droplets that remain in the air for several minutes or hours, known as airborne transmission. It is not yet known if it is common for the virus to be transmitted through this means.

It can also spread when a person touches a surface where the virus is found and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes, but this is not one of the main ways it is transmitted.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 symptoms can be very mild or severe. Some people have no symptoms. The most common symptoms are fever, cough and fatigue.

Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, headache, chest pain, and loss of taste or smell. This list is not all-inclusive. Other less common symptoms have also been reported. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.

Can COVID-19 be prevented?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized emergency use of some COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. A vaccine could prevent you from getting COVID-19 or from getting seriously ill if you get the COVID-19 virus.

What can I do to avoid getting sick?

If you have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, there are many steps you can take to avoid getting the COVID-19 virus and transmitting it to others. The CDC and WHO recommend following the following precautions:

  • Keep at least 6 feet (2 meters) between you and people who don't live in your household.
  • Avoid crowds and closed environments that do not have good ventilation.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Wear a mask when you are in public, especially when it is difficult to maintain physical distancing.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw away the used tissue. Wash your hands immediately.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

If you have a chronic medical condition and may be at higher risk of developing serious illness, talk to your doctor about other ways to protect yourself.

Should I wear a mask?

The CDC and WHO recommend that unvaccinated people wear a cloth mask in public when physical distancing is difficult. People who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and outdoors where there is a high risk of contracting COVID-19, such as at a mass event or large gathering. This advice is based on evidence that people with COVID-19 can spread the COVID-19 virus before they realize they have it.

Wearing masks in public can help reduce the spread of infection among people who do not have symptoms. Non-medical cloth masks are recommended for the public. If there are surgical masks, you can use them. Surgical masks and N-95 respirators are in short supply in some locations and should be reserved for healthcare providers.

Once you are fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends that you can not wear a mask, except where required by policy or law. You are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after receiving the second dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or 2 weeks after the single dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

In the United States, everyone must also wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other public transportation.

I can travel?

If you're planning to travel, check travel safety advisories first and take appropriate precautions when in public. You may also want to talk to your doctor if you have health conditions that make you more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications.

What can I do if I am or might be sick with COVID-19?

If you develop symptoms or have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, contact your doctor for advice. If you need to go to the doctor or hospital, call ahead so health care providers can take steps to make sure others are not exposed.

Take the following precautions to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus:

  • Stay home and do not go to work, school, or public places, except to receive medical care.
  • Avoid public transportation, taxis, and rideshares if possible.
  • Wear a cloth mask around other people.
  • Isolate yourself as much as possible from others in your home.
  • Use a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible.
  • Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items.

Response from Pritish K. Tosh, MD

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