If You're Feeling Anxious About Coronavirus, Here's What We Know So Far

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Coronavirus update
Kevin Frayer/Getty

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few months, you have probably heard about novel coronavirus, a serious and potentially deadly pneumonia-like respiratory virus that originated in China and is causing lots of concerns across the globe.

Just this week, officials from the CDC warned that Americans should brace themselves for a possible outbreak in the United States, saying that it’s not so much if such an outbreak might occur, but when.

First of all, deep breaths.

The general consensus is that this is not something for us parents to be highly concerned about, at least not yet. Despite this week’s dire-sounding warnings, the risk to the general American public is considered low right now, according to the CDC.

“For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low,” wrote the CDC in a recent summary.

“However, it’s important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. In that case, the risk assessment would be different,” they add.

In addition, experts say that the potential for you or your child to contract a serious case of the flu is a much bigger concern than getting sick with novel coronavirus. (FYI: It’s not too late to get a flu shot!)

Still, if you are anything like me—and most parents out there, I suspect—just hearing the worlds “global pandemic” is enough to freak you out and keep you up at night worrying, no matter what assurances you are getting. In these situations, knowledge is power. And although we don’t know a ton about novel coronavirus yet and we certainly can’t predict how it might affect us or our kids in the future, there is a lot we do know, so it’s worth going over some facts.

What Is Novel Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses aren’t new. There have been several global epidemics involving coronaviruses over the past few years, including the MERS and SARS epidemics.

According to the CDC, “Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS and SARS.”

A health worker checks the temperature of women entering the subway on January 26, 2020 in Beijing, China. Betsy Joles/Getty

This current strain of coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in late December 2019 by Chinese health officials. It’s thought to have originated in an animal market in Wuhan, China.

Who Is Contracting It?

The novel coronavirus epidemic is a constantly evolving situation. As of this writing, the number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus worldwide is about 80,980, and the number of fatalities is about 3,000. So far, the United States has had 60 cases of the virus, and no fatalities. For up-to-date statistics about coronavirus, you can check the CDC or WHO webpages specifically dedicated to the virus. The New York Times is also keeping a live, updated page on the virus.

What Are The Symptoms?

Symptoms of novel coronavirus vary from person to person. Some folks will only get mild respiratory symptoms, but some will get much more severe symptoms. This is especially true if you are very young, elderly, or have a weakened immune system.

The CDC says that the most common symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days, or as long as 14 days after exposure.

Chinese children wear protective masks as they wait to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty

“It looks like most of the deaths so far have occurred in older adults, who had other coexisting health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells The New York Times. “But obviously, it still has the potential to make many people so sick that they end up in the hospital, not only in Southeast Asia, but with global travel, all over the world.”

How Easily Is It Transmitted?

So far, close person-to-person contact is how most people are contracting novel coronavirus. Basically, someone has to cough or sneeze near you or otherwise get their ick on or near you for you to get sick. The CDC says that touching surfaces where viruses the viruses have been and then touching your nose or mouth may be a possible way for the virus to spread, but that most cases have been through close contact.

“We believe that the respiratory secretions from coronaviruses can’t travel more than six feet,” Dr. H. Cody Meissner, of Tufts University School of Medicine, tells The New York Times.

What Can I Do To Protect My Children?

OK, so the maybe we grown-ups can make sure not to cough on sneeze on each other, but kids have no freaking clue how to keep their germs to themselves. They are basically walking boogers. Still, says the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), there are things parents can do to help keep our kids safe from novel coronavirus, despite their snot-spewing tendencies.

A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as she is held by a relative as they wait to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty

Here are the AAP’s top tips:

– Wash your hands. 20 seconds is best. Hand washing is the way to go, but hand sanitizer works if you aren’t able to wash your hands.

– Stay away from sick children and keep your kids home if they are sick. Like, seriously, do this.

– Kids should cough and sneeze into their elbows, not their hands.

– Keep your home clean and disinfected, especially if anyone in your family is sick.

– The AAP recommends that you don’t travel to the infected areas of China at this time.

The Bottom Line

So it’s clear that coronavirus shouldn’t be a huge worry for us right now. But what if more cases pop up in America? What could happen next? While experts do warn that this may happen, and that we can expect to hear more scary news stories about novel coronavirus going forward (ughh), the lessons we have learned from other outbreaks will be applied.

If a bigger outbreak happens in the U.S., experts are urging us all not to panic, but that it might be necessary for our lives to be disrupted in order to contain the outbreak and keep everyone safe.

“Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time,” writes the CDC. “Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism.”

Again, we are not there yet, and at this time there is little risk to you and your kiddos. Of course, you should continue to watch the news and listen to health officials about any possible warning or actions you need to take in the future. But for now, you should go about your normal life, make sure to breathe—and always, always wash your damn hands.

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