What is the novel coronavirus?

The 2019 novel (new) coronavirus is a virus strain that was first detected in December 2019. The scientific name for the virus is SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. Health experts are concerned because much is unknown about this new virus, but it has the potential to cause severe illness and pneumonia in vulnerable people, especially the elderly and those with serious health conditions.

What is coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19?

Coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19, is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

How does SARS-CoV-2 spread?

Health experts are still learning the details about how SARS-CoV-2 spreads. Other coronaviruses spread from an infected person to others through:

  • The air by coughing and sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes
  • In rare cases, contact with feces

How severe is COVID-19?

Experts are still learning about the range of illness from COVID-19. Based on what is known at this time, most reported cases have had mild illness (similar to a common cold) but many have also had severe pneumonia that requires hospitalization. So far, deaths have been reported mainly in older adults who had other health conditions. Reported illness among children appears to be milder, but children with other health conditions might be at risk for more severe illness. Public health officials will know more about the spectrum of disease with more information about confirmed cases.

What are the symptoms?

People who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have reported symptoms that may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus. COVID-19 symptoms include the following:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea (rare)

Who is at risk for COVID-19?

At this time, COVID-19 is not spreading widely in the United States due to the initial containment measures implemented with travelers. However, cases have been identified in individuals who have not traveled; therefore, we anticipate cases being confirmed in our area over the coming weeks. The precautions for avoiding COVID-19 are the same as those for avoiding the flu and common cold. Travelers to and from certain areas of the world may be at increased risk. See the latest travel guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How can I prevent getting COVID-19?

If you are traveling overseas, follow the CDC’s guidance. The CDC currently recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to China. Several other countries have been added to CDC’s list addressing how to avoid COVID-19.

Right now, COVID-19 has not been spreading widely in the United States, but there is concern that local transmission is occurring in the Seattle area. The situation will likely change, so it is important to pay close attention to reliable sources of information (see the resources section on this page). Steps you can take to prevent spread of flu and the common cold will also help prevent coronavirus:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water or, if not available, use hand sanitizer
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home while you are sick and avoid close contact with others
  • Cover your mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing

Currently, there are no vaccines available to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2.

How is COVID-19 treated?

There are no medications specifically approved for coronavirus. Most people with mild coronavirus illness will recover on their own by drinking plenty of fluids, resting, and taking pain and fever medications. However, some cases develop pneumonia and require medical care or hospitalization.

How will I know if my school or business needs to close or do extra cleaning due to COVID-19?

When SRHD is notified of a patient with possible COVID-19, epidemiologists work with the patient and his/her health care provider to determine if there are other people who may have been exposed. If your school or business is impacted, you will be contacted by SRHD and given additional information and instructions.

If there is a community-wide need to take action, such as canceling events or closing businesses or schools, our health officer will make that decision after consulting with public health officials and community partners. Any community-wide decision will be widely publicized through the media.

*Content courtesy of the Washington State Department of Health.