GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Coronavirus mitigation efforts have affected nearly every aspect of our lives, but you may still have questions about what exactly coronavirus, or COVID-19, is and why so many restrictions have been put into place.
Below, you’ll see answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
WHAT IS COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the disease people can develop when they contract this new strain of coronavirus. It originated in Wuhan, China, in 2019 (that’s where the ’19’ part of the name comes from). | CDC website
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath, though several other symptoms may also be present. These symptoms generally develop between two and 14 days after exposure. When the case becomes severe, patients can struggle to breathe and require hospitalization or ventilation. | CDC website
HOW DO YOU GET COVID-19?
COVID-19 generally spreads when an infected person breathes or coughs and small particles of the virus, carried in respiratory droplets, enter another person’s body, generally by inhaling. This is why health officials are advising you to cover your mouth with your arm when you cough, stand far apart from other people, wash your hands frequently and wear a mask in public. It appears each infected person spreads the illness to between two and three others — faster than flu but slower than measles or tuberculosis, all of which you can get vaccinated against. | Further details
HOW MANY PEOPLE GET SEVERE CASES OF COVID-19?
This rate is still being tracked, as is the mortality rate. Part of the problem is that testing has lagged, making it difficult to really work out what percentage of people infected did not survive.
The mortality rate could be above 1%, significantly higher than the .1% rate for influenza. Data compiled by John Hopkins University shows different countries are seeing wildly different rates ranging from .1% to over 15%. It’s important to note that testing plays a huge role in determining those rates, as do other factors like health care access.
What we do know is that the majority of people who contract COVID-19 have mild symptoms — or none at all — and will recover. Older people and those with preexisting health problems are the most likely to develop severe complications, though younger and healthy people may have serious cases and die, too. The problem with coronavirus is that it can spread so quickly that the number of severe cases rises swiftly and overwhelms hospitals.
HOW IS COVID-19 DIFFERENT FROM A COLD OR THE FLU?
Influenza, the common cold and COVID-19 are all viral infections, but they are come from different viruses.
Flu symptoms are more varied than COVID-19, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and possibly vomiting and diarrhea. Flu is widespread and kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year — about .1% of those infected. Those deadly cases are spread out over area and time so hospitals can manage them. Part of the goal of coronavirus mitigation efforts is to prevent it from becoming the same sort of scourge as influenza.
The common cold shares some of the same symptoms as the flu, but they come on slower and it’s unusual for the cases to develop into something serious. | Cold vs. Influenza
Doctors treating patients in Bergamo, Italy, which was hit especially hard by the pandemic, say COVID-19 is completely different than the flu. The primary differences: It spreads much more quickly and a higher percentage of patients get so sick they require hospitalization. Hospital systems in the areas with the most cases have struggled to keep up — we have seen this in Italy, New York City, Texas and Florida.
WHAT DO I DO IF I THINK I HAVE COVID-19?
Stay calm. You may just have a cold or the flu. Even if you do have COVID-19, most cases are mild and you’ll probably recover at home. Isolate yourself and your entire household while you seek advice from a doctor via a televisit. Do not go directly to your doctor’s office — you could contribute to the spread. You can go to Michigan.gov/coronavirustest to find out where to get tested and how to set up an appointment. | What to do if you have illness symptoms
Only go the emergency room if it’s an actual emergency, like if you can’t breathe. That being said, if you are having a medical emergency, like trouble breathing, a suspected heart attack or a stroke, do not hesitate to go to the hospital. Hospitals are prepared to treat you and protect you from the virus.
WHAT IS SOCIAL DISTANCING AND WHY ARE WE DOING IT?
Social distancing is the practice of separating ourselves from one another so as to slow the spread of the virus. This is why mass events like sports games were canceled and why areas where people congregate, like bars and restaurant dining rooms, were closed. When you do interact with others, stand 6 feet apart. This makes it harder for the virus to spread. | Explaining social distancing
As we’ve noted, the problem with coronavirus is that it spreads so quickly that the number of severe cases can rise faster than hospitals can keep up with. We saw this happen in China, Italy and Spain — health care systems are overrun, making it very hard to care for the small percentage of patients who developed severe cases. New York City neared a similar point; a field hospital was set up in Central Park and a U.S. Navy hospital ship was sent to the city in anticipation of a crisis. When the virus surged in Texas and Florida in late June, hospitals started running short on ICU beds.
In Michigan, there were always enough ICU beds and ventilators for everyone who needed one — though some Detroit-area hospitals neared capacity when the outbreak was at its worst.
You may have heard the term “flatten the curve.” That is the goal of widespread social distancing measures — turning an unmanageable spike in cases into a manageable load. | Flatten the curve
DID SOCIAL DISTANCING MANDATES WORK?
Yes, Michigan officials say. The state’s outbreak leveled off and despite a slight uptick in cases in July has remained manageable. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has moved slowly to reopen, saying that going too quickly could cause a devastating second spike. Health officials say we should keep social distancing, wearing masks in public and washing our hands frequently.
WHY AM I BEING TOLD TO WEAR A MASK?
As we’ve noted, the virus spreads through respiratory droplets expelled when people cough, sneeze, talk or even just breathe. A face covering can help prevent these droplets from spreading far enough that they may be inhaled by another person, causing them to contract the virus. An increasing number of studies have indicated they can cut the risk of transmission up to 70%, according to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive.
Federal public health officials including the nation’s highest-ranking expert on infectious diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci and White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, as well as U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, have urged the use of masks.
In Michigan, wearing a mask is not just a recommendation — it’s required by executive order. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s mandate says you must wear a mask anytime you are indoors in a public place, anytime you’re on public transit and anytime you’re outdoors in public but may not be able to maintain 6-foot social distance. Businesses have been told to turn away those ignoring the rule. There are exceptions for those with medical conditions and small children.
WHAT’S CLOSED BECAUSE OF COVID-19?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order has been lifted and restaurant dining rooms, hair salons, nail salons and gyms have been allowed to reopen throughout the state. In northern Michigan, entertainment venues were allowed to reopen with capacity restrictions and reopening of those venues is pending in the lower part of the state. Bars were allowed to reopen for a time, but were later told to halt indoor service amid outbreaks in Michigan and elsewhere in the nation.
WHY ISN’T EVERYONE GETTING TESTED FOR COVID-19?
Initially, there were not enough test kits available to test everyone who was presenting symptoms of COVID-19. But by mid-April, testing had ramped up considerably. Under the latest state guidelines, just about everyone can get a test. You can go to Michigan.gov/coronavirustest to find out where to get tested and how to set up an appointment.
CAN I LOSE MY JOB IF I STAY HOME WHEN SICK?
No. On April 3, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order explicitly prohibiting employers from firing or disciplining any worker who stays home if they have tested positive for or show symptoms of COVID-19, or if they have had close contact with someone who has it. | Details
WHERE’S MY UNEMPLOYMENT PAYMENT?
The state was overwhelmed with well over 2 million unemployment claims since it started shutting down businesses in March to help slow the spread of the virus, especially. Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency says it has processed the vast majority of those claims, but some have still complained they can’t get problems resolved or aren’t seeing their extra $300 in federal assistance. The best advice now: be patient and persistent in trying to contact the UIA.
MICHIGAN UNEMPLOYMENT RESOURCES
HOW CAN I HELP?
The state also needs people to volunteer to help with contact tracing, the process of tracking patients’ movement to find who else may have been exposed and warn them to quarantine. | Volunteer
Certain hospitals and other nonprofit agencies are also taking donations. | Where and how to donate
Ottawa County has created a website where low-risk people can sign up to volunteer or where you can donate. The Berrien County Community Foundation and United Way of Southwest Michigan have a website where you can find places to volunteer, plus a website where you can make financial donations to organizations in need. The West Michigan Sports Commission has created oneteamforwestmichigan.com, where fans can go to donate to the charity partners of local sports teams.