Ask Dr. Josh: Coronavirus

Original post April 2020, last updated 5/10/2020

How did the coronavirus start?

This coronavirus (named SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19) used to be a virus that infected only bats. Viruses are 'species specific', meaning usually viruses infect one species. There are human viruses, dog viruses, cat viruses, bat viruses, bird viruses...

 

Every so often, a virus will change so that it can infect either more than one species, or it will go from one species to another. That is what happened here - this bat virus changed and became a human virus.

 

This happened somewhere in Asia, probably China. We know this because the first human cases reported were in China.

 

Is it possible that we will go back to school this year? 

It's definitely possible, but it's hard to know right now. It might start back up and go longer than usual. This has happened when there have been a lot of snow days, for example.

**NOTE: Since this original post, many states have decided to keep their buildings closed for the remainder of the 2019/20 school year, conducting only virtual instruction.

 

Where is it going to spread?

It is now on all continents (except Antarctica), mostly in the northern hemisphere. Many of the coronaviruses we already know about have a season that is similar to the flu - starts in fall, ends in early spring. We might expect this virus to slow down some by the summer, but it could rev up in the southern hemisphere (during their fall and winter). Then it could come back again in the fall. Probably not as severe as now, but we may see it again.

 

How fast can the virus spread?

When a person is infected, it can show up as early as 2 days later. This means that it can spread to another person, and as few as 2 days later to another, and so on. If these people travel, or go from place to place, the virus can move to areas where more people are. This is how it spreads geographically. Another piece of the puzzle is that the virus is new. People and their immune systems have not seen it before, so they are more likely to get infected if exposed.

 

How does the coronavirus spread?

The virus goes from person to person. It gets into a person by attaching to cells that line the nose, eyes, mouth, and throat (called mucous membranes). It can get to someone's mucous membranes by air (the virus get coughed or sneezed into the air, the person breathes them in) or touch (it's on the person's hands and they touch their mouth). It can get on someone's hands if the coughed or sneezed virus lands on a table. or clothes, or light switch.

 

I am curious, what are the symptoms of the coronavirus in adults/kids?

Usually the virus causes fever and cough in both adults and children. People will have body aches, feel short of breath, and sore throat. Some times people with have stomach pain, and even diarrhea. Kids usually get better after a few days and the fever goes away. Adults usually take longer for the fever to go away, and the cough can last a while. Not often, the cough can spread and cause pneumonia that in some adults needs to be cared for in the hospital.

 

Why does it keep moving around the country and the world?

The virus is good at moving from person to person, and people are good at moving from place to place. So the virus is able to spread from place to place.

 

How big is the virus? (size and shape)

This coronavirus is very small, a sphere about 120 nanometers across. That is about 1,000 times smaller than a human hair, 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt, and a million times smaller than a tennis ball. It's about the same size as flu virus, but about 5 times as big as norovirus.

 

How does the coronavirus affect jobs?

There are a few ways COVID-19 can affect jobs, both negatively and positively.

 

The first way it can affect jobs negatively is that it can make people sick, and keep them from working, so businesses can have a hard time running and may have to cut jobs to stay in business. The second is that the main way we are trying to stop the virus from spreading is 'social distancing', or staying apart from each other. This is why schools are closed, and why everyone has been told to stay home. For some jobs, people can work from home and be on the phone or online. But for others, it can't be done, and the job is lost. The last is that part of the stay at home orders have closed businesses like stores and restaurants. People working there are no longer needed, and the company may choose to let them go.

 

Jobs that can be in more demand are jobs that involve deliveries (like packages and food, since everyone is at home), internet and phone service (everyone needs to use WiFi), and emergency workers.

 

Is there a way to stop it?

With the virus so widely spread, our focus is on slowing it and containing it. Once a virus exists, it never goes away, but it can cause less illness because people's immune systems find ways to protect against it, or treatments or vaccines are developed. Because we don't have treatments or a vaccine, our best bet is to slow its spread (fewer people will catch it) and hope people develop enough of a defense that it becomes less of a problem.

 

Why is everyone so scared of the virus?

I think there are three main reasons people are afraid. The first is because the virus is new and we have a lot to learn. People can be afraid of things they don't know or don't understand. This can be called 'fear of the unknown'. The second is because it can cause people to get sick, and in some cases people are sick enough that they are in the hospital and some can die. This can be very scary. The third is that there have been a lot of movies and books that have imagined a virus spreading across the world and a lot of people dying. We don't know that this will happen with COVID-19 (it has not so far, so probably not), but no one can say for sure. Something that does not calm these fears is the news telling the stories over and over. The news tends to tell us bad things - it gets more people to watch. But without telling the good, it makes people think there are only bad things about the virus, and they get scared.

 

Here are some good things about the virus:

(1) Our social distancing seems to be working, and the virus spread is slowing. It worked well in Germany and South Korea. (2) The virus is not causing bad illness in everyone who is infected, especially in kids. Very few kids have ended up in the hospital because of this virus. This is not true for a lot of viruses we have known for many years, like flu, RSV, or even the mumps.

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