COVID-19: What we know so far about the 2019 novel coronavirus

Hi. I'm Emily Landon. I'm the hospital epidemiologist and an adult infectious diseases specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine. 
And I'm Allison Barlett. I'm the associate hospital epidemiologist. And I'm a pediatric infectious diseases specialist here at the Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago Medicine. 

We're here today to answer more of your questions about the coronavirus or COVID-19. 
So a lot of you have been hearing about this term that's called social distancing, which may be a new concept or a new term for some of you. But really, it's an old concept. It is ways that we can all work together to spread ourselves out from other people and keep ourselves safe from spreading infection in large group settings. 

In an outbreak like this one, most people are going to be just fine. However, there certainly are a lot of people that are at very high risk. Even if you're not the person at high risk, the speed at which this disease spreads throughout our community makes a big difference in terms of how many people are sick at the same time. 

You know that in your own family, everybody can get a cold within a week or week and a half of one another. And you can all end up sick at the same time. If that happens with our older and more vulnerable people in the United States, they could easily overwhelm our hospital system. And we may not have enough beds for all the patients that need to be cared for. In order to prevent that from happening, we all have to do our part to help spread ourselves out and slow the spread. 

When we talk about influenza, we usually use things like vaccines and antiviral medications to help prevent people from getting sick and slow the spread in our communities. We don't have that for this brand new disease. And more people than ever are susceptible to it. 

So what we need instead is for everyone to take precautions to keep themselves separated from every other person. You don't know when the person that you're sitting next to is going to get sick in two days. And then you might be at risk. 

This graph shows what happens when everyone gets sick at the same time. If we all keep going to the grocery store and the theater and spending time with our friends, and all our kids stay in school, and everybody keeps going to work and doing their lives the same way, then everyone will get sick quickly. Certainly, we'll get through the epidemic more quickly. And that may be preferable to some of us. But if we don't slow things down, as you can see from this line here, it could be that there aren't enough hospital beds for when my mom and your mom get sick. 

Instead, if we do the things that we're talking about, like staying home from work and working from home when your boss tells you that that's a good idea, avoiding making extra trips out to do errands, spending less time in crowds, cleaning off surfaces, and all of the other things that we are talking about today, then we can slow the curve of the epidemic. And hopefully it will fall under our capacity so that our hospitals can keep being able to take care of patients that need us. 

So there are definitely different categories of ways that we can work together to practice social distancing. The easiest is, just as Dr. Landon has mentioned, to decrease unnecessary trips and running errands and staying out of large group gatherings. 

There are other things that we may implement that are working from home, which is, again, a way to keep yourself away from crowds. When you are working from home, you're doing exactly that. You are performing your work functions at home instead of going to your usual place of business. There's no other restrictions on your ability to go to the grocery store or to run the errands that you need to do, except that we do also want everyone to be mindful of all of the time that we're spending in public. 

Then we have patients who we are placing under what we call quarantine, so people who have an infection or have been exposed that we are having purposely stay in their house. They're able to work from home, if possible, but limiting all of the other trips that they're taking outside of the home to go get groceries and run their errands. 

So I think there's a couple really easy things that we probably should have been doing all the time. But now really is our chance to show that we can shine in terms of helping keep both ourselves safe and, again, practicing social distancing and respiratory hygiene to protect everyone around us. 

So you've heard a lot about all sorts of new alternatives for the good old fashioned handshake, so fist bumps and embracing the Vulcan myself and elbow bumps and any variety of other ways to greet people and acknowledge our relationships and community without transferring germs. 

I think other things that we can be doing much better are practicing our own good hand hygiene, not just after we're using the restrooms or before we're eating, but just regularly throughout the day, keeping your work surfaces clean, wiping off your keyboard and your phone. And practicing good respiratory etiquette, coughing into your sleeve, using disposable tissues, and throwing them away when you're done and washing your hands afterwards. 

So we use the word quarantine in a really specific setting. And so usually, your physician or the public health department is going to be the ones that are recommending the practice of quarantine. So quarantine is when you stay home. You aren't leaving for any of your errands. And you really are just staying in the same place for the entire duration of the quarantine period. With the coronavirus, we also have special recommendations for people who are living in the same household as you when you are quarantined to help keep them safe as well as they help care for you. 

So recommendations for people who are living with someone who is being quarantined are to stay separate from the person as much as possible, to be very careful about maintaining good hand washing, and cleaning high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and countertops. When you do need to be in the same room as the individual, mask use is really important as well. 

So that's a lot of contacts there. And it's important for us to get this answered because it's a question we're getting every single day. If you have contact with someone who is known to have a confirmed case of COVID, you will be asked to stay home and watch yourself for symptoms. That is very different than if you have contact with someone who had contact with someone who either does or may have COVID-19. 

Contacts of contacts, or people that are two people removed from an actual case or a possible case, do not need to take any precautions at this time. You have to wait and find out if the person you had contact with develops any symptoms. 

So I want to say this again. If you are two people removed from either a potential or a confirmed case of COVID-19, you need not take any precautions. However, if the person you live with gets sick, then everything changes. In other words, the only reason that you would need to take precautions, stay away from other people, or stay away from work outside of usual social distancing practices that you may be having because of your desire to help slow the spread of this infection. Unless you've had contact with someone who is actually sick with confirmed COVID, you can continue to do your daily life, just under the usual practices for the current situation. 

So school kids catch on to a lot more than I think sometimes we parents acknowledge. And so there is a lot of talk in the schools and among groups of friends about coronavirus and what it means to them. And I think the most important thing to let your children know is that they are going to be fine and safe throughout this. And there's a lot of grownups really working hard to help keep everybody safe. 

But at the same time, there's a really important job that your kids need to do. And that really is some of the social distancing practices that we've been talking about. They and their friends are going to be fine. But we want to keep everybody, especially their parents and their grandparents, safe, so following the rules. 

When there's large group gatherings that are canceled, it's disappointing. But we're doing it for a reason. And everything they can do to practice washing their hands and covering their coughs is really helping keeping everybody in their community safe. 

People who are most at risk of having a bad outcome from coronavirus are not the children, which is wonderful news. However, grandparents, in fact, anyone over the age of 60 has a much higher risk of having a bad outcome. And by bad outcome, I mean needing to be in the hospital, maybe getting so sick that you need to be on a ventilator. Even amongst these people, death is very rare if we can give everyone the level of care that they need. 

However, it's very important at this time that we do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable among us, that is anyone who is older, especially men, people who are smokers, people who have other underlying medical conditions, like even hypertension or high blood pressure and diabetes can put you at higher risk of having a bad outcome, and people who have low immune systems, people with underlying lung disease or who take medicines to make their immune systems not work as well because they have some sort of autoimmune condition or cancer. These are the people who will have the most risk of developing worsening symptoms when they have COVID-19. 

We strongly recommend that these individuals begin curtailing all of their outdoor activities in accordance with the CDC guidelines from last week. These people should not be traveling. These people should not be out in crowds. They should be staying home as much as possible. And if you haven't been instructed to work from home, you should ask about working from home if you are in one of these groups. 

We shouldn't be hunkering down because we're scared. The individual risk to any one of us is low. However, we should be hunkering down because we need to protect those of us who have higher risk. The only way we can do it is by taking these actions. These actions that keep us at home and keep us away from other people are what will protect the people who are the most vulnerable. 

We aren't doing these things out of fear for our own safety I'm going to work from home whenever I can and attend meetings by phone and definitely use my namaste hands when I greet people because I want to protect your mom and my mom and make sure that we save room in our hospitals for them when they need a bed, should they get sick. So we're not doing these things out of fear. We're doing them to protect everyone else. 

A contagious respiratory disease that was first detected in China in December 2019 has spread worldwide. The 2019 novel (new) coronavirus has been named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes is called coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.

Although health officials here and abroad are working to track and contain the growing epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects widespread transmission of COVID-19 in our country.  As an infectious disease specialist and hospital epidemiologist at the University of Chicago Medicine, my job is to prepare for outbreaks such as COVID-19 while caring for patients at our academic medical center on Chicago’s South Side. The extent of this outbreak is rapidly evolving and risk assessment changes daily, but here’s what we know about COVID-19 as of today:

What is a coronavirus? What is a novel coronavirus?

A coronavirus is the name for a large set of illnesses, including the common cold and other respiratory infections. The term “novel” coronavirus means it’s a new form of the virus.

Where and how did COVID-19 begin?

We learned about this particular virus shortly after a cluster of severe pneumonia cases were reported on New Year’s Eve 2019 in Wuhan, which is in the Hubei Province of China.

How did the virus come to the United States?

The first known patients in the U.S. contracted the virus while traveling in other countries or after exposure to someone who had been to China or one of the other affected areas. But now, a few cases here cannot be traced to these risk factors. This is concerning because it suggests the illness may be spreading across communities for which the source of infection is unknown, which we call community spread/transmission.  We don’t know how severe this will be, but it may cause significant disruptions in our daily lives.

How does the COVID-19 spread?

This virus is really transmissible and can spread easily from person to person even before a person develops symptoms. It’s carried on respiratory droplets when we talk, sneeze, and cough and these can land on surfaces or in someone’s mouth or nose.  When it comes to respiratory droplets, 6 feet is the magic distance. That’s how far these tiny, infected droplets can travel.  Being within 6 feet of someone who is sick can get you or your personal space contaminated with COVID-19.  

When droplets land on surfaces, we can pick them up with our hands and transfer them to our eyes, mouth, and nose when we touch our faces. This is why hand hygiene is so important. Good hand hygiene means washing our hands not just after we're using the restroom or before we're eating but regularly throughout the day. Respiratory secretions (like snot and sputum) are also be infectious, so cover your coughs and sneezes, use disposable tissues, throw them away when you're done, and wash your hands afterward. Keep your work surfaces clean and wipe off your keyboard and your phone.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? Is it deadly?

It typically causes flu-like symptoms. Some patients — particularly the elderly and others with other chronic health conditions — develop a severe form of pneumonia.

If you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to know when to see a doctor.

Patients develop symptoms like fever, muscle and body aches, cough, and sore throat about 5-6 days after infection. Most people will feel pretty miserable for a week and get better on their own.  Some people won’t get as sick, but it’s still important not to be out and about, so as not to spread the disease.  A minority of patients will get worse instead of better. This usually happens after 5-7 days of illness and these patients will have more shortness of breath and worsening cough.  If this happens, it’s time to contact your doctor again or even go to an emergency room. Be sure to call first so they know you are coming.  

The numbers of people who have been diagnosed and how many have died are changing daily. As of early March, there have been over 125,000 confirmed cases, with a death toll of about 4,500 (more than 3,000 in mainland China). But these numbers are just estimates; it’s still unclear how many people have actually been infected worldwide. Most of the deaths have been in adults over 60 years old who had other health concerns.

For those who suffer from allergies or chronic sinus problems in general, how do we best identify the differences between seasonal symptoms and COVID-19?

A stuffy and runny nose aren’t common symptoms of the new coronavirus. If you're mostly having those symptoms, then you probably have something else.

But if you are having contact with people who are at higher risk for bad outcomes, or if you’re immunocompromised, then I would strongly recommend talking to your own physician about how you can best control your allergy symptoms through this difficult spring season.

It may be worthwhile to take a daily antihistamine so your allergy symptoms are kept at bay. Then you can better tell the difference between allergies and a bad infection with COVID-19.

Is everyone at risk for catching COVID-19?

Yes. It doesn’t appear anyone is naturally immune to this particular virus, and there’s no reason to believe anybody has antibodies that would normally protect them. However, children appear to be among those least likely to have a bad outcome from contracting the disease.

The lack of previous experience with this virus is part of the reason public health officials are working so hard to contain the spread of this particular coronavirus. When viruses are both new (which means the population is highly susceptible) and can easily pass from person to person (a high transmission rate), they can be very dangerous.

Why do some people with the COVID-19 get sicker than others?

It looks like only about 20% of people who contract this novel coronavirus need to be hospitalized. The other 80% get what feels like a bad cold and recover at home. A lot of this has to do with underlying medical conditions. People who are more vulnerable to any kind of infection — because of their age or chronic health conditions — are more at risk for getting really sick from COVID-19. 

That said, some otherwise healthy people do seem to be getting sicker from this infection than we would expect. We don’t understand why that is or what might be different about these patients. If you have COVID-19 and you are getting sicker and sicker instead of better and better, you should contact your doctor or visit an ER. Be sure to call first so they know to expect you.  

Who are the most at-risk for contracting a severe case of COVID-19?

The most vulnerable populations for having a bad outcome with COVID-19 – including needing to be in the hospital or on a ventilator – are people over the age of 60 (especially men) with additional medical concerns. This includes people who are smokers, who have hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes, people who have low immune systems, people with underlying lung disease or who take medicines to suppress their immune systems because they have some sort of autoimmune condition or cancer.

We strongly recommend that these individuals begin curtailing all of their outdoor activities in accordance with the recent CDC guidelines. These people should not be traveling, and they should not be out in crowds. They should be staying home as much as possible. And if you haven't been instructed to work from home, you should ask about working from home if you are in one of these groups. 

Does the pneumonia vaccine provide any protection against COVID-19?

There is no antibiotic (they are designed for bacterial infections, not viral ones) to treat COVID-19.  Scientists are already working on a vaccine, but we don’t expect to have a good vaccine until spring of 2021 at the earliest.  However, ongoing trials in China suggest that there are some existing antiviral drugs that may be helpful for the sickest patients.  In fact, the University of Chicago is part of a multi-institutional team that has mapped a protein of SARS-CoV-2 and found drugs previously in development for SARS could be effective for COVID-19.

For now, doctors can only treat the symptoms, not the virus itself. 

Similarly, the pneumonia vaccine protects against a type of bacterial pneumonia, not the COVID-19 virus. However, it’s still important to get the pneumonia vaccine – particularly if you’re over 65 or have a compromised immune system. It can keep you safe from other illnesses that are circulating or shorten the severity of your sickness if you contract bacterial pneumonia.

What kind of medical care do patients with COVID-19 need?

It’s the 20% of COVID-19 patients who get really, really sick that worry many of us in the infectious diseases field. A lot of these critically ill patients wind up needing to be hospitalized for their pneumonia-like illnesses. They typically require critical care and ventilation — special machines that help them breathe. And some need to stay on ventilators for weeks at a time. It’s this portion of patients that is most concerning. Depending on how many cases develop here in the U.S., providing that level of care for so many people over a number of weeks runs the risk of overwhelming the nation’s health care system pretty quickly. We can help prevent this kind of “surge” in patients by practicing social distancing (see below for more explanation). 

How do you screen patients for COVID-19?

At UChicago Medicine, our teams are following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means we’re asking any patient who has respiratory symptoms and a fever if they’ve traveled to the affected areas in the past two weeks or been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Patients who answer yes will immediately be given a facemask and put in an isolation room, which has special airflow designed to keep airborne germs from getting out into other rooms. Then, they’ll be tested for the usual seasonal respiratory viruses and, if those are negative, tests will be sent for COVID-19 as well. Turnaround time on the COVID lab test is 1-2 days. People will need to remain in isolation until they’re cleared. But they may not need to stay in the hospital.  Most patients are well enough to rest at home while waiting for the test results.  

We’re also instructing our clinical teams to follow standard infection control protocols. Our doctors, nurses and other clinical staff will wear protective gear, such as gowns, gloves, masks and eye shields. That’s what they do with anyone who has something like the flu and it’s the same steps we followed during the SARS and MERS outbreaks. We’re also reminding everyone to make sure to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their faces — that’s good practice any time of the year, and especially during flu season.

Should people be more concerned about the seasonal flu or COVID-19? 

There’s widespread seasonal flu activity going on right now all around the U.S.  But there are steps you can take to protect yourself from influenza. You can get an annual flu shot. You can take medication like Tamiflu that protects you from getting influenza after you’ve been exposed. You can cover your mouth and wash your hands to mitigate the spread. And, like clockwork, this year’s influenza strain is going to die out in the spring because it will have run its course. 

The challenge with COVID-19 is that we probably can’t contain it and we don’t know if we’re really prepared as a country for a massive coronavirus epidemic.  If we are lucky, it will slow down a bit over the summer but the next few months look like they are going to be pretty tough for all of us. We need to be as ready as we can for whatever comes our way and know that we will get through it eventually. 

How can I protect myself?  Should I wear a facemask?  

Take the preventive actions you do for the cold and flu. This includes avoiding close contact with people who are sick; not touching your eyes, nose and mouth; washing your hands thoroughly and frequently; and cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces you come in contact with regularly.

The CDC does not recommend you wear a facemask to protect yourself from getting COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses. While it feels like it should be protective to have something physically blocking your face, for otherwise healthy people, it doesn't work as well as we'd like to think it does. Air and germs can get around the sides of the mask.

Masks are also very important in keeping our healthcare workers safe. We have a nationwide shortage of masks, both the regular kind and the N-95 special masks, that healthcare providers are wearing when we're caring for COVID-19 patients. We need to do our best, both out in the community and even in the hospital setting, to ensure we are being good stewards of that resource so the masks are available when we need them.

I'm immunocompromised, but I still have to go to work. Is there anything I can do to protect myself? 

A lot of people still have to work, including healthcare workers. Social distancing is still important, and there are things you can do to help social distance while at work. For example, you can join meetings through teleconferencing instead of going to the meeting room. You can also do things by phone when you would have done them in-person, even if you need to be on site. 

If you work in a place that has shared workspaces, try to spread those workspaces out. People who can work from home can work from home, and then you can move into their spaces so that there's more distance between everybody who needs to be in the office.

Another option for shift workers could be shortening and rotating shifts so that half the people are working a shorter shift in the morning and the other half work a shorter shift in the afternoon, resulting in fewer people in every shared space. There’s a lot of creative options you can come up with to reduce the number of human beings that are within 6 feet of you.

The other thing that really matters is to clean off your surfaces regularly. We know from some studies out of Singapore that even when you have sick people around, if you clean surfaces regularly, it really does help to decrease spread of germs. Make a plan with your coworkers to wipe down all the doorknobs, shared surfaces, and any shared workspaces that you might have. Clean them off every hour and then wash your hands.

Will the flu shot protect people from COVID-19?

Unfortunately, the flu shot is not effective against this virus. But it will help protect you from the flu, and the flu is still what you’re more likely to catch right now. 

Can drugs like Tamiflu protect patients from getting sick from COVID-19? 

No. Tamiflu is designed to fit into a molecule in the influenza virus, which doesn’t appear to be part of COVID-19. However, there are other antiviral medications that may be helpful. We’re still learning more about whether these drugs, like Kaletra (an antiretroviral for HIV patients), will prevent people from getting sick entirely or just help people recover faster. Still, there’s a lot of hope in some of the early data we’re seeing. There are also other antivirals being evaluated at the center of the outbreak in Wuhan.   

What should I do if I think I am infected with COVID-19?

If you think you may have COVID-19, reach out to your doctor right away. If you’re going to your doctor’s office or an emergency room, call ahead so someone can meet you outside to give you a facemask to help limit the spread of any germs. In the meantime, stay away from other people. If you live with others, choose a room or place in your home where you can be separated from the others.  Don’t share utensils or cups. Have someone wipe down bathroom surfaces with disinfectant regularly, keep their hands clean, and try to keep the windows open for air circulation.  Don’t forget to cover your coughs and sneezes. 

Can I get tested for COVID-19 if I’m worried I’ve been exposed? 

Only if you are sick. The test to diagnose COVID-19 isn’t useful unless you are sick and it’s still more limited than any of us want it to be. Make sure you tell your doctor about any risks for COVID you may have so they can get you a test if you need it.  

It’s also worth mentioning that people shouldn’t be worried if they go to their doctor’s office and get tested for respiratory viruses and the results say they have a coronavirus. That’s because coronavirus is the name for a whole group of viruses, including things like the common cold. Most doctors’ offices can test for normal, everyday coronaviruses. If you see test results that say you have one, you shouldn’t worry. If you are being tested for COVID-19, your doctor will be very, very specific and will walk you through any results that come back.  

Is COVID-19 airborne?

In infection control, we draw a line between things that are transmitted by traveling in the air briefly in respiratory droplets and things that are actually aerosolized and float around for a while. Think of droplets as small bits of fluid that you can feel and see when someone sneezes. You sneeze or cough and these droplets get on surfaces and then you touch them and get them on your hands, or they can fly right into your mouth or nose or eyes. That’s how most coronaviruses are transmitted and that’s how we think this one is too.  

Aerosols are different. Think of hairspray after you use it in the bathroom. When you go back to the bathroom later, you may still be able to smell it because it’s lingering in the air. Obviously, we’re learning a lot about this virus, but most coronaviruses aren’t airborne that way. Generally speaking, there may be times when some of these droplets or particles are airborne, but it’s limited.

Someone on my plane was coughing next to me. Should I worry I will get COVID-19?

If you have contact with someone who is known to have a confirmed case of COVID, you will be asked to stay home and watch yourself for symptoms. That is very different than if you have contact with someone who had contact with someone who either does or may have COVID-19. 

Contacts of contacts – or people that are two people removed from an actual case or a possible case – do not need to take any precautions at this time. You have to wait and find out if the person you had contact with develops any symptoms. In the unlikely chance someone on your flight did have COVID-19, the local health department in your community will find you. If they don’t, then you probably weren’t exposed.

What is “community-based transmission” and why is it important?

Public health officials have been talking a lot about “community-based transmission” of COVID-19 and it’s not always clear how this is different from a person who picked up COVID while traveling abroad.  Because of the travel alerts and the public health screening at airports, many people who traveled to a country with COVID risk are being asked to stay home and avoid contact with other people. When these people get sick, they have very few contacts and public health officials can track them down and ask them to continue to stay home. This is a containment approach to reducing spread of a new virus and it means that we can see the whole chain of transmission, tracking it from person to person.  

When we find cases of COVID-19 that aren’t part of a known transmission chain, these patients must have picked up COVID from somewhere. So, we have to assume there are invisible chains of transmission that could include lots and lots of missed cases. Basically, it tells us that our attempts to contain the virus have failed and, especially with COVID-19, it can be really difficult to find these invisible cases and stop the spread. Epidemiologists believe that each community-based case represents a bunch of other invisible cases and, often, this spurs widespread testing of everyone who has cough or cold symptoms in the area. This usually leads to finding a lot more cases in the subsequent weeks.

What is “social distancing” and should I be doing it?

Social distancing is one of a number of “non-pharmacologic interventions” that can be used to slow spread of infections. This specifically refers to different ways of keeping people separated. Increasing the distance between desks at school or standing farther away from the next person in line at the grocery store are both social distancing, as is working from home instead of an office and choosing to elbow bump or wave instead of shake hands. Canceling group gatherings and avoiding crowded public places are also crucial forms of distancing. Social distancing is a way we can all work together to spread ourselves out from other people and keep ourselves from spreading infection.

We shouldn't be staying at home or distancing because we're scared. The individual risk to any one of us is low. However, we should be distancing because we need to protect those of us who are at a higher risk. The speed at which this disease spreads throughout our community makes a big difference in terms of how many people are sick at the same time. If many people are sick at once, this could easily overwhelm our hospital system, and we may not have enough beds for all the patients that need care.

The only way we can prevent this from happening is by taking actions to stop spread of the disease. These actions that keep us at home and away from other people will protect the most vulnerable and keep our hospitals from becoming overcrowded should these people need more serious medical interventions.

Are seemingly healthy people “shedding” the virus to others?

Yes, but we don't have a great sense of how many asymptomatic people are walking around infected with COVID-19 because we aren't testing those people. This will eventually become more evident, though, and will influence, and likely lower, the information we’re seeing about the death rate from the coronavirus. We don't know who might be potentially contagious, which is another important part of why people should stay away from other individuals.

What if someone I live with becomes sick with COVID-19?

If you are living with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and is being quarantined, you need to stay separate from that person as much as possible. Additionally, be very careful about maintaining good hand washing and cleaning of high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and countertops. When you do need to be in the same room as the individual, wear a mask. 

What does quarantine mean for COVID-19? When should I consider quarantining myself?

We use the word quarantine in a really specific setting. Normally, your physician or the public health department is going to be the ones recommending the practice of quarantine. If you or a family member gets sick with COVID-19, you could find yourself in a mandatory 14-day (or longer) quarantine, and you won’t be allowed to leave your home, even to run errands. You would stay in the same place for the entire duration of the quarantine period. 

Should routine doctor’s appointments, including dental work, be delayed?

Any nonessential medical care should be rescheduled. If something is essential or if you are unsure, reach out to your doctor's office about telehealth options or pre-screenings so you can figure out whether or not you need make an appointment to see someone in person.

What are the best practices for someone who must take public transportation during this time? 

Traveling on public transportation or in other group settings is absolutely a risk because you're in a confined location with other people who may be sick. While public transportation authorities are working to increase the frequency they’re cleaning buses and trains, we can only do so much cleaning. Hand hygiene and not touching your face until after you've washed your hands are important parts of how you can prevent spread.

Also, this is another reason why social distancing is so important. Some people have to take the bus and the train in order to get to work, including many healthcare providers. Those of you who don't need to take public transit should not use it, which means those people who have to take the train or the bus can spread out inside. That in turn helps limit risk. Our behavior can really affect what happens to everybody else in society, and it's a time for us to realize just how interconnected we really are. 

Do I need to stock up on groceries and medication?  Could we be locked down like in China?

It’s highly unlikely that the U.S. government would impose extreme movement restrictions unless absolutely necessary.  For communities experiencing bad outbreaks, they will likely ask people to stay home and avoid public spaces for a while. These strategies can really help slow the spread of infection so that everyone doesn’t get sick at the same time. Following these recommendations in any way you can will help protect the most vulnerable among us.  

If you or a family member gets sick and has to be quarantined, it’s important to be ready to do your part by staying home. In this situation, you probably need to have basic supplies on hand in the way of non-perishable foods, prescription medications and comfort items to help keep you sane while you ride it out — as you would during a natural disaster. However, COVID doesn’t threaten our water supply or electricity so hand-crank radios and pallets of water might be a bit overkill for this situation. Instead, maybe it’s time to choose a few puzzles and catch up on your favorite binge watching. Having a bunch of enjoyable things to do if you have to stay home for a while can go a long way toward making the entire situation more bearable. 

How should I be talking to my children about COVID-19?

With all of the event cancellations and school closures, it’s important we discuss what is happening with school-aged children who will likely be disappointed or scared by what they are hearing. The most important thing to let your children know is that they are going to be fine throughout this, and there are a lot of grownups working hard to help keep everybody safe. At the same time, we need our kids to also help keep others, including their parents and their grandparents, safe. We need their help with social distancing, washing their hands and covering their coughs. 

Will this virus die off in spring or summer when the temperatures warm up?

We don’t know specifically how COVID-19 will react to higher temperatures. However, at a minimum, warmer weather can help us better cope with social distancing. Being out in wide open spaces is a safer way to be in the world and interact with other people, and it can make it easier on those who have kids at home.

COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly across the globe, so some information may be outdated from our publish date. For our latest updates, read our most recent coronavirus coverage.

Emily Landon, MD

Emily Landon, MD

Dr. Emily Landon specializes in infectious disease, and serves as medical director of antimicrobial stewardship and infection control.

Learn more about Dr. Landon.

At the Forefront Live: Coronavirus Questions Answered Expert Q&A

When should someone stay home? How often should hands be washed? Dr. Emily Landon and Dr. Allison Bartlett from UChicago Medicine answered audience questions during this special Facebook Live Q&A about the novel coronavirus.

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Support UChicago Medicine's COVID-19 Response Fund

Help support our dedicated healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the adult and pediatric patients and families who are affected.