I first wrote about what is now commonly known as COVID-19 in January when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that they would be checking passengers arriving from Wuhan, China to New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.
The concern was this new virus that had caused several infections and a couple of deaths in China.
On Tuesday January 21, 2020 we had the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the US.
A lot has changed since January. This year has been a year of fear, frustration, and adapting to many unexpected changes to manage his pandemic.
Nine months into 2020, what have we learned about the novel coronavirus that has turned our lives upside down and has had an unprecedented effect on the global economy?
Let’s start with the basics
Coronaviruses are human and animal pathogens, that means they can cause disease in both people and animals.
In December 2019, a novel coronavirus was identified as the cause of a cluster of lung infection cases in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei Province of China.
It rapidly spread, resulting in an epidemic throughout China, followed by an increasing number of cases in other countries throughout the world.
In February 2020, the World Health Organization named this novel virus COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
On March 11, 2020 COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
On March 13, 2020 a national emergency was declared in the United States concerning the COVID-19 Outbreak.
What do we know about this virus
The Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses has proposed that this virus be designated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus appears to be related to this virus.
It is very similar to a bat coronavirus. It is likely that bats are the primary source. However, whether COVID-19 is transmitted directly from bats to humans or through some other mechanism is unknown.
How widespread is COVID-19?
Globally, there are more than 20 million confirmed cases.
Updated case counts can be found on the World Health Organization and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control websites.
An interactive map showing confirmed cases by country, courtesy of Johns Hopkins can be found here.
Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in all continents, except for Antarctica.
What do we know so far about how it spreads?
The best answer...we aren’t sure.
The Wuhan outbreak was at a live seafood market where most of those infected had worked or visited. However, as the outbreak progressed, person to person spread became the main mode of transmission.
Direct person to person transmission is the primary means of transmission. It is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets. However, infection may occur if a person's hands are contaminated by droplets or by touching contaminated surfaces and then they touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets typically do not travel more than six feet, which is where the 6 feet social distancing concept came from.
Although there is still much to be learned about viral transmission, we know the potential to transmit COVID-19 starts prior to the development of symptoms. Infecting others after 7 to 10 days of being sick, although possible is thought to be less likely.
Those that are infected are more likely to be contagious early in the disease process.
Transmission of COVID-19 can occur in individuals who are infected yet have no symptoms.
The extent to which transmission occurs from an asymptomatic person and how much it contributes to the pandemic is yet to be determined.
The risk of actually getting COVID-19 after contact with an individual with COVID-19 increases with the closeness and duration of contact and has the highest risk in indoor settings.
We don’t know how long COVID-19 can live on surfaces and if it this has any clinical significance.
We do know that after recovery from infection your body will develop specific antibodies. There is some data to suggest this is protective against reinfection, but this has not been definitively proven.
How can you protect yourself?
Many of these are common sense things.
Practice social distancing by avoiding crowds and maintaining a distance of six feet from others when in public. Wearing masks in public is also highly encouraged.
Wash your hands often or use of hand sanitizer, cover your cough/sneeze.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests not wearing contact lenses to avoid touching the eyes.
The mask controversy
There is no controversy. Nothing political here, just a recommendation based on the best current evidence we have.
Wearing a mask is not a infringement on personal freedoms, it is joining a global effort to fight an invisible enemy so we can get on with life. Don't be selfish, protect yourself and others.
We still have much to learn.