The novel coronavirus has changed modern life as we know it. These uncertain times have left many wondering when, or even if, will we see things return to normal. While most international travel is halted and social distancing measures are in place around the globe, it’s important for us to be as informed as possible. Understanding how COVID-19 works lets us know how to slow down the spread of the virus and flatten the infamous curve.
Since the first confirmed case in January 2020, the virus has spread like wildfire throughout the US. America overtook China and Italy as the country with the most confirmed cases in the world, with Florida within the top ten most-infected states. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning about how it spreads and the severity of illnesses it causes.” So, what do we know about this coronavirus?
Here’s what we know. COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The respiratory-illness-causing virus has since been the cause of a worldwide outbreak and global pandemic. While there are many other known coronaviruses (remember the SARS outbreak in 2003?) this strain has not previously been seen in humans.
We know that the best way to slow the spread of the virus is to limit contact with others as much as possible. Countries like New Zealand and Vietnam have proved that early-implemented and strict social distancing rules have helped to flatten the curve. To further understand why social distancing works, we need to understand how exactly the virus spreads.
How Does Coronavirus Spread?
COVID-19 can spread with considerable ease. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently estimates that every infected person can pass the virus on to 2-3 others. This figure means that this coronavirus is more infectious than the flu.
Perhaps the most alarming evidence about COVID-19 is that it can be transmitted before the onset of symptoms and even by asymptotic people. This is a leading contributing factor in the growing number of global cases. It’s also a warning to reduce social contact so we can delay the effects of the various forms of transmission.
COVID-19’s most common route of transmission is by small droplets released into the air when infected people, with or without symptoms, cough or sneeze. These respiratory droplets can land in the mouths and noses of people in close proximity to the infected person (which it's why it's important to wear a mask).
The current advice is to maintain a 3-6 feet distance from others to reduce the potential for these droplets to be breathed in. However, some experts say that this is outdated advice as large droplets can travel further, especially when air conditions are right.
It’s not currently clear if respiratory transmission is limited to coughing and sneezing. Talking, and even breathing, could be proven to be routes of transmission also, which is why it's so important to wear a mask.
Another route of transmission is through virus-ridden particles in the air. Infected people are able to emit virus particles that are small enough to be considered aerosols. Recent studies suggest that these aerosols can travel long distances and remain airborne for up to three hours.
This poses a much larger threat of the spread of infection than was originally thought. However, many questions about coronavirus and its ability to transmit through airborne particles still remain unanswered. How infections are the aerosols? How long do the aerosols remain infectious for? What we do know, if that the risk is not negligible.
The final mode of transmission is through contact with surfaces. For example, virus particles from the cough or sneeze of an infected person could land on a surface. A non-infected person could then touch that surface, closely followed by their eyes, nose, or mouth. This is why washing hands and keeping your home clean is so important during this pandemic.
It’s currently unclear how common this transmission is, but the risk is no-doubt present. What does this mean for things like takeaways and parcels? Research shows that contracting the virus from deliveries is low. But with that being said, disinfecting anything that comes through your door is not a bad practice.
How to Stay Safe
Wear a mask
Masks can help stop the spread of COVID-19. Wear one whenever you're out in public or around other people.
Wash your hands
It may sound incredibly simple, but making sure to wash your hands for 20-30 seconds regularly throughout the day is a surefire way to keep the virus at bay. When leaving the house for essential reasons, it’s good practice to carry some alcohol gel to disinfect your hands and surfaces at regular intervals.
Stay at home
Humans are inherently social, so this can feel like a difficult task. However, the safety of our loved ones should come above everything. Adhering to social distancing guidelines and only leaving the house for necessities will slow down the spread of the virus.