Frequently Asked Questions
What is coronavirus, or COVID-19?
The potentially lethal respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan City, located in Hubei Province in the People’s Republic of China.
On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19—the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2—a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, citing the virus’s ability to rapidly move into highly populated regions in less-developed countries, where disease tracking and the ability to respond are significantly lower than in the developed world. The WHO and global health community remain particularly concerned about traditional disease hot spots, including less-developed countries in Asia and Africa. The coronavirus also has quickly been spreading to countries in the developed world, leading the WHO on March 11 to declare a pandemic.
How does the coronavirus spread?
People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the coronavirus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. If these droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person, other people can catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they inhale droplets from a person with the coronavirus who coughs out or exhales droplets or aerosols. This is why it’s important to stay at least 2 meters (about 6 feet) away from a person who is sick.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some patients may have loss of taste and smell, aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected with the coronavirus but remain asymptomatic—that is, they don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell.
About 80% of people recover from the disease without needing special treatment. However, about one out of every six people who get COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems—such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes—are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.
What should I do if I feel sick?
Call a healthcare professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as a dry cough or difficulty breathing. Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department and CDC to determine if you are infected with the coronavirus and need to be tested for COVID-19.
If you are sick with COVID-19, follow these guidelines and consult your healthcare provider for updates and additional recommendations:
- Stay home except to get medical care.
- Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor.
- Wear a face mask when you are around other people (for example, sharing a room or vehicle) or pets, and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a face mask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then people who live with you should not stay in the same room with you, or they should wear a face mask if they enter your room.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trash can. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing or going to the bathroom and before eating or preparing food. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid sharing personal household items and do not share items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
- Clean all “high-touch” surfaces such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables every day, using a household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Monitor your symptoms, and seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening (for example, if you have difficulty breathing).
- If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that you have, or are being evaluated for, COVID-19. If possible, put on a face mask before emergency medical services arrive.
- Remain under home-isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low. The decision to discontinue home-isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
More information for sick patients is available on the CDC website.
Who is at high risk for severe illness from coronavirus?
Older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions, such as heart, lung or kidney disease, seem to be at higher risk from infection with the coronavirus. Data suggest older people are twice as likely to develop serious COVID-19 illness.
If you are at higher risk from the coronavirus, follow the guidelines below, and consult the CDC website for detailed recommendations and updates:
- Stay at home as much as possible.
- Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies, in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time.
- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
- Avoid crowds.
Stay up to date on CDC Travel Health Notices and avoid travel as advised.
Who should wear a mask?
Face masks are designed to prevent sick people from spreading germs, including the novel coronavirus. Because the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been shown to spread through the air, and because it’s been shown that people who have the virus can spread it before they exhibit symptoms or feel sick, everyone should wear a face mask in public. Studies have demonstrated that this not only will help protect others from getting infected, but will protect the wearer as well.
Keep in mind that wearing a mask is just one component in an overall approach of protecting yourself and others against the virus. For example, in addition to wearing a face mask, you should maintain physical distance where possible, stay home if you’re feeling ill, and practice good hand and cough hygiene. And when a vaccine becomes available, you should talk with your physician about whether or not it’s appropriate for you and your loved ones.
What is social distancing and how can it stop the spread of coronavirus?
Social distancing—or, more aptly, physical distancing—refers to actions that can be taken by individuals as well as groups to prevent the spread of infectious disease.
Individuals can practice physical distancing by maintaining a distance of at least 2 meters, or about 6 feet, from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. At work, you can practice social distancing by holding virtual meetings in place of in-person meetings or by working from home, if that’s possible.
Physical distancing also refers to certain actions that are taken by public health officials to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious virus, like the novel coronavirus.
Physical distancing measures also can be taken to restrict when and where people can gather, to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases. Such distancing measures include limiting large groups of people coming together, closing public buildings and canceling events.
Refer to the CDC website for more information on what individuals and communities can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
How can I prepare for an outbreak of COVID-19 in my community?
Before a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in your community, the best thing you can do is plan ahead. A COVID-19 outbreak could last for a long time. Depending on the severity of the outbreak, public health officials may recommend community actions designed to help keep people healthy, reduce exposures to the coronavirus and slow the spread of the disease.
Creating a household plan can help protect your health and the health of those you care about if an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs in your community. You should base the details of your household plan on the needs and daily routine of your household members. More information is available on the CDC website.
What’s being done by governments and NGOs?
Governments worldwide are responding to the threat of the novel coronavirus by restricting travel and imposing quarantines on individuals or groups with suspected or confirmed transmission. According to Scott Lillibridge M.D., epidemiologist and emergency response director for International Medical Corps, “Almost all countries now have national preparedness efforts and planning in place.”
In the countries where we operate, International Medical Corps has field teams working with national and local partners to address critical response needs and preparedness issues. This means rapidly expanding local capacity to address the coronavirus through an approach that consists of technical assistance and equipment related to infection prevention and control (IPC); case management; train-the-trainer sessions on communicable disease prevention; establishing emergency coordination and partnerships; and providing training on and access to personal protective equipment (PPE).
Why Is International Medical Corps so prepared to respond to the coronavirus?
We’ve been here before—on the frontlines of the world’s deadliest disease outbreaks.
To give just one example, during the 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic—the largest and deadliest in history, with more than 28,000 confirmed cases and 11,000 deaths—International Medical Corps served as a key partner for the WHO, fielding a team of more than 1,500 health professionals. As one of the few international NGOs to treat patients afflicted with the virus at the source of the outbreak, we worked in all three high-transmission countries (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia), and cared for more than 460 confirmed Ebola patients through five Ebola treatment centers (ETCs). We simultaneously provided critical training to frontline health workers on IPC across five West African countries, and after the outbreak continued to build local health systems and provide mental health and psychosocial counseling to those affected by the regional epidemic.
We have built on these efforts and expertise in our response to the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history, which occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in our responses to infectious disease outbreaks around the world.