FAQ: Coronavirus and social distancing

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Coronavirus mitigation efforts are affecting 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?

Coronavirus is a virus that can make people sick with the disease COVID-19. It originated in Wuhan, China, last year (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. These symptoms generally develop between two and 14 days after exposure. When the case becomes severe, it can develop into type of pneumonia that requires hospitalization. | CDC website

HOW DO YOU GET COVID-19?

COVID-19 spreads when an infected person coughs and small particles of the virus enter another person’s body, generally by inhaling. It’s also possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface where the virus is living and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. This is why health officials are advising you to cover your mouth with your arm when you cough, stand far apart from other people and wash your hands frequently. It appears each infected person spreads the illness to between two and three others — faster than flu but slower than measles or tuberculosis. | Further details

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 coronavirus, 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, and those deadly cases are spread out over area and time so hospitals can manage them. The fatality rate for coronavirus is at least 10 times higher than that.

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 has been 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 require hospitalization. Hospital systems in the areas with the most cases can’t keep up.

HOW MANY PEOPLE GET SEVERE CASES OF COVID-19?

This rate is still being tracked, as is the mortality rate. The death rate could be 1% to 4%, depending on where the outbreak is. The majority of people who contract COVID-19 are going to 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, too. The problem with coronavirus is that it can spread so quickly that the number of severe cases rises so quickly hospitals are overwhelmed.

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. Quarantine yourself and your entire household while you seek advice from a doctor. Do not go directly to your doctor’s office — you could contribute to the spread. Call your doctor for guidance about what to do and whether you should try to get tested. If a doctor does recommend you get tested, you’ll receive instructions about where to go. Only go the emergency room if it’s an actual emergency, like if you can’t breathe. | What to do if you have illness symptoms

(Courtesy state of Michigan)

WHY ISN’T EVERYONE GETTING TESTED FOR COVID-19?

The short answer: There just aren’t enough test kits. Health officials are determining who’s most at risk of developing a severe illness to decide who gets tested. A March 19 shipment of federal supplies to Kent County health officials was not adequate to get on top of testing. The next day, Michigan’s chief medical executive said the state simply does not have enough access to kits or the ability to process them fast enough to get a clear scope of the spread.

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. Stay away from other people when possible — this is why mass events like sports games have been canceled and why areas where people congregate, like bars and restaurant dining rooms, have been closed. When you must interact with others, like at your job or in a grocery store, stand at least 3 feet apart and preferably 6. 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 more quickly 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 is getting to a similar point; a field hospital has been set up in Central Park.

You may have heard the term “flatten the curve.” That’s what we’re doing — trying to turn an unmanageable spike in cases into a manageable load. | Flatten the curve

IS SOCIAL DISTANCING WORKING?

It’s hard to tell right now because we haven’t been doing it long enough, but health officials are optimistic we’ll start to see positive effects in the next couple of weeks. Still, cases aren’t expected to peak until at least the end of April, which means we’ll probably be social distancing into May. | The curve hasn’t flattened yet. When will it?

WHAT’S CLOSED BECAUSE OF COVID-19?

With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, nearly every public space is being affected in one way or another. Universities are going online-only and K-12 schools are closed. Bars, gyms, hair and nail salons, and other nonesssential businesses are closed, and restaurants can only do takeout or delivery. Many national retail chains have adjusted hours or closed completely.

Grocery stores are still open, though Walmart, Meijer and SpartanNash have limited hours to keep shelves stocked.

WHAT HAPPENS IF SOMEONE VIOLATES THE STAY-AT-HOME ORDER?

Executive orders, like the stay-at-home order, are enforceable by law. If you choose to ignore the stay-at home order, you could face a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also set an additional civil infraction fine of $1,000 for people who violate social distancing orders, which means you could face a total fine of $1,500. Businesses that shirk the order could also lose their state license. However, most police agencies say that at this point, they’re focusing on education over punishment. | Who should you call about violations?

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

WHAT IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DOING ABOUT COVID-19?

Federal health officials are working to get out test kits and personal protection equipment, like medical masks, gloves and gowns, though governors of several of the hardest-hit states, particularly New York, say they still need more. Michigan got a shipment of 400 ventilators from the national stockpile on the week of March 30.

Additionally, Congress has passed three aid packages for Americans dealt a financial blow by the widespread business closures, including a $2.2 trillion stimulus package.

HOW CAN I HELP?

The state is taking donations of various medical supplies. Reach out to the Michigan Community Service Commission at COVID19donations@michigan.gov or 517.335.4295.| State on donations

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.

TRACKING CORONAVIRUS:

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