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How To Recognize The Symptoms Of COVID-19 And Stop The Spread Of Coronavirus

Madeleine King/Iowa Public Radio

What is COVID-19? How do you help stop the spread of coronavirus? What does it mean to self-isolate?

As we settle into self-distancing and working from home, you're going to need to be ready to protect your health and the health of those around you. Here's a quick guide on the symptoms of COVID-19 and how to stop the spread of coronavirus. 

Do you have questions about how the outbreak is being handled in Iowa? Fill out this form, and we'll try to answer as many of your questions as we can with our reporting.

The basics of protecting against coronavirus

What are the symptoms?
The primary symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some people also experience fatigue, headaches and, less frequently, diarrhea. Cases can range from mild to moderate to severe. About 80 percent of cases so far seem to be mild, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

To prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer if a sink isn't available. The WHO says people should wear face masks only if they're sick or caring for someone who is.

What should I do if I think I'm sick?
If you think you've been exposed to the coronavirus and develop symptoms, call your doctor. Many state and local health departments have set up hotlines to answer questions, so that's another good place to start. It's important that you don't expose others. Call your doctor before you go to their clinic so they can take necessary precautions.

What does it mean to "self-quarantine," and how do I know if I should do it?
A self-quarantine is when you choose to isolate yourself, based on either knowing or believing you may have been exposed to the coronavirus while interacting with others. If you've traveled to a country or other state or city where there are known COVID-19 cases or a dense population of people from many different towns, you should plan to self-quarantine once you return. In fact, your employer may require you to quarantine yourself. 

If you choose or are told to self-quarantine, you should monitor for symptoms of becoming ill. This includes regularly checking your temperature and watching for other signs of COVID-19 illness. 

When you decide to self-quarantine, you'll need to be ready to be isolated for a 14-day period, which is the length of the incubation period for the coronavirus. 

How do I protect my home? 
Wash your hands as soon as you walk through the door. Avoid sharing personal items such dishes, cups, utensils - even among family members - until they have been properly cleaned. Clean and disinfect "high-touch" surfaces like door handles and cellphones every day.

Also, practice social distancingHere’s how.

How does coronavirus spread?
The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close proximity to one another: within about 6 feet. It spreads primarily through respiratory droplets that are spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets can land in the mouth or nose of someone nearby, and possibly infect them.

Does coronavirus spread through contact with surfaces?
According to the CDC, it may be possible for a person to become infected by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. But experts believe the virus spreads mostly through contact with other people.

There is new research showing that the novel coronavirus can live on surfaces for 2 – 3 days. Its viability on different surfaces varies, but this is an important finding that may also help explain the volume of community spread. Given this new finding, remember to:

  • Sanitize using ammonia or alcohol-based products (skip the baby wipes)
  • Wash your hands
  • Use hand sanitizer in a pinch
  • Wipe down your cell phone and other frequently touched computer devices
COVID-19 definitions and related terms

COVID-19: An infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus.

Coronavirus: A large family of viruses that may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS and SARS.

The coronavirus, the new coronavirus, or the novel coronavirus: Interchangeable terms used to describe the most recently discovered coronavirus. This strain of coronavirus causes COVID-19. The new strain is officially name SARS-CoV-2, though you will commonly heard it referred to as coronavirus or COVID-19. This new virus was unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): This federal agency is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As part of its mission, the CDC works to increase health security, save lives and protect people from health threats.

The CDC is a primary trusted resource for information and news about the novel coronavirus. Members of the CDC are included in the White House Coronavirus Task Force and are often speaking during these daily briefings.

You can view the latest from the CDC on the novel coronavirus here.

Community transmission or community spread: When public health professionals cannot specify an origin for an infection.

As it relates to Iowa, public health officials are no longer trying to pinpoint the origin of the cases and are assuming new cases will stem from community transmission.

Flatten the curve: A way of saying “slow the spread of the virus” to stop it from overwhelming the health care system and worsening the health condition of already and soon-to-be sick individuals. If the acceleration of cases is slowed, medical resources are produced and maintained at a higher level, enabling the better care of all ill individuals.

Epidemic: The rapid spreading of a disease among a region or certain population.

At this time, the spread of the novel coronavirus has been classified as a pandemic.

Pandemic: The spread of a disease on a worldwide scale, meaning that it is spreading to or found across the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified the spread of the novel coronavirus as a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

Incubation period: The time between exposure to a virus and the appearance of the first symptoms of disease.

As it relates to the novel coronavirus, the incubation period is anywhere from 1 – 14 days, most commonly around five days. This is based on currently known data, and is likely to be updated as more is learned about the virus.

Isolation: The separation or restriction of activities of a symptomatic or ill person with a contagious disease from those who are well. In other words, a person sick with COVID-19 should be isolated from other people.

Presumptive positive: The time between an initial positive test for the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus and final confirmation by the CDC that the result is positive. A presumptive positive from a CDC test is treated as if the patient is positive for the virus.

Quarantine: The separation or restriction of movement of well persons who have an elevated risk of infection because they might have been or were known to be exposed to a communicable disease. This does not mean the person will become ill.

A quarantine can be instituted by an individual making the decision to restrict their interactions. This is called self-quarantine.

A quarantine can also be instituted under state or federal law, essentially placing a large amount of the population on lockdown. An example is the recent quarantine instituted on people on cruise ships where other passengers fell ill with COVID-19. The people who were not sick were required to stay at military bases for 14 days prior to being able to go back into the community.

Self-monitoring: Regularly checking your temperature and watching for signs of illness. This also involves limiting interaction with others. An individual does not have to be quarantined to self-monitor.

Self-quarantine: During a self-quarantine, the individual will self-monitor for symptoms of becoming ill. As it relates to the novel coronavirus, the quarantine period is 14 days. This is based on the known incubation period for the virus.

Social distancing: As it relates to preventing the spread of COVID-19, social distancing is keeping space between yourself and other people. This includes avoiding shaking hands, avoiding crowds, standing or sitting at least 6 feet apart and staying home if you feel sick.

Businesses are engaging in social distancing by asking employees to work from home or changing working hours. Governments engage in social distancing by closing schools. Entertainment is doing it by going to no-spectator games or postponing or canceling events altogether.

World Health Organization (WHO): A specialized health agency of the United Nations that is based in Geneva. It sets internationally accepted guidelines for treating diseases and coordinates responses to disease outbreaks globally.

The WHO is another primary trusted source for reliable information about COVID-19 and the coronavirus family. It is the WHO that determined when COVID-19 reached pandemic spread.

Matt Sieren is IPR’s Digital/IT Manager