Special Report

17 Health Questions About COVID-19 Answered

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1. What’s the difference between the new coronavirus and other coronaviruses?

SARS killed 774 people in 2003. “COVID-19 has a bigger pre-symptomatic period,” Dr. Mark Siedner, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, said. People who contracted SARS got sick quickly and that made contact tracing easier, he explained. “People who have been infected with this novel coronavirus don’t have symptoms but are still contagious for three or four days.” This makes contact tracing very difficult.

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2. What’s working in terms of prevention and treatment?

Social distancing is all we’ve got, Siedner said. There is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus. People who are infected can receive care to relieve symptoms, and those who develop severe illness can be hospitalized to receive supportive care such as getting oxygen and other treatments and being put on a ventilator if all else fails.

A 90-year-old woman in the U.K. was the first recipient of a Pfizer vaccine, making Great Britain the first Western country to start a mass effort to inoculate people against the coronavirus.

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3. When is it necessary to wear a face mask?

Health care workers wear masks to protect themselves. The majority of people wear masks to protect everyone else — 50% of infections spread before people have any symptoms, according to Siedner. “We know you could get the virus after being close to a sick person for a few minutes,” he said. And some early research has shown the virus can be suspended in the air for up to three hours but much depends on the environment. That’s why people should wear masks every time when in public, Seidner explained. The more people wear masks, the more socially acceptable it will become, resulting in even more people wearing masks, protecting even more people from the virus. You don’t have to wear a mask if you are near people who live in the same household.

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4. How long does it live on various surfaces?

The coronavirus’ survival depends on the type of surface it lands on as well as the overall environment. Depending on the material, the virus can survive from three hours to seven days, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Glass — up to 5 days

Wood — up to 4 days

Plastic and stainless-steel — up to 3 days

Cardboard — up to 24 hours

Copper surfaces — up to 4 hours

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5. How reliable are antibody tests?

Early antibody tests don’t perform very well because they show many false positives, according to Siedner. What the scientific community is a little worried about is that people are going to get their hands on these tests, and they’re going to start testing each other, Siedner said. The concern from a public health perspective is that many tests are going to come back positive when they should be negative, and people are going to walk around thinking and behaving like they’re immune when they’re not.

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