FAQ: COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019)
The 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It’s called a “novel” — or new — coronavirus, because it is a coronavirus that has not been previously identified.
February 29, 2020
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. Common human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold, with symptoms that last only a short time. However, two other human coronaviruses, MERS and SARs, have been known to cause severe symptoms and even death.
January 30, 2020
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever greater than 100.4°F (38.0°C), dry cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Some patients also experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. These symptoms typically begin gradually. In addition, both the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and ENT UK have noted that a number of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 reported a sudden loss or change in their sense of smell or taste.
Not all affected individuals will exhibit all symptoms, and there is now evidence that up to 25 percent of infected individuals will have no symptoms at all. If you are concerned about symptoms you are experiencing, call MIT Medical’s COVID-19 hotline at 617-253-4865 to speak with a clinician and get advice about what to do next.
April 7, 2020
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with each other (within 6 feet). The virus spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or may be inhaled into the lungs.
It may also be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes. However, scientists do not believe this is the main way the virus spreads. To minimize the possibility of contracting the virus in this way, the CDC recommends frequent hand-washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub. The CDC also recommends routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces.
The CDC defines “close contact” as either 1) a “prolonged period of time” spent “within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) or within the room or care area” of an individual who has been positively diagnosed with the virus or 2) “direct contact with infectious secretions.” Examples include sharing eating or drinking utensils, close conversation, or kissing, hugging, and other direct physical contact. “Close contact” does not include activities such as walking by a person or briefly sitting across a waiting room or office.
January 30, 2020
The time between exposure to a contagious illness and the onset of symptoms is called the “incubation period.” Based on what has been seen previously with similar viruses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated the incubation period for COVID-19 to be from 2–14 days.
April 7, 2020
While the CDC provides guidance to clinicians about testing, decisions about testing are at the discretion of state and local health departments and/or individual clinicians. If you are concerned about symptoms you are experiencing and think you may need to be tested for COVID-19, call MIT Medical’s COVID-19 hotline at 617-253-4865 to speak with a clinician and get advice about what to do next.
April 7, 2020
Yes, evidence indicates that people who are infected with 2019-nCoV may become contagious before symptoms are noticeable. In addition, it is now estimated that up to 25 percent of infected individuals remain asymptomatic and may unwittingly infect others. For that reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that individuals wear non-medical-grade, cloth face coverings in public settings where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing, such as grocery stores. If everyone wears masks, this might help prevent those who are unknowingly infected from spreading the illness.
April 7, 2020
There are three main ways to protect yourself from COVID-19:
Pay attention to personal hygiene,
Keep surfaces clean, and
Practice social distancing.
Learn more by reading our article, “Three ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”
April 7, 2020
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that, in laboratory tests, the virus was detectable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel surfaces, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to four hours on copper. But a “detectable” amount of virus may not be enough to cause infection. In fact, most viral particles die relatively quickly outside of the body. Even on stainless steel and plastic, the half-life of the virus — the length of time it takes for half of the microbes in a given sample to die — was 5.6 and 6.8 hours respectively. On cardboard it was less than four hours.
This means that, while mail and packages could have small amounts of infectious viral particles on them, the risk is relatively low. To be safe, wash your hands after opening packages or mail. Similarly, any small risk from take-out containers can be mitigated by transferring the food to your own dishes, disposing of the packaging in which it was delivered, and washing your hands before eating.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that COVID-19 viral particles could remain suspended in the air for as long as a half hour. However, while this research showed the virus remaining airborne longer than originally thought, it also showed that the particles disperse quickly. This means that unless you are physically close to an infected person, you are unlikely to be at risk from viral aerosols.
So, by all means, go for that walk! Exercise and fresh air is important for both physical and mental health, especially at this time. Your risk of becoming infected by a stray bit of airborne virus while out on a walk and maintaining a safe distance from others is minimal.
April 7, 2020
Probably not. While we are still learning more about the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.
This is not surprising based on what we know about the varying paths organisms take to make people sick. Respiratory viruses, like COVID-19, typically attach to cells in places like the lungs and cannot survive the acidic environment of the digestive system. In contrast, the microorganisms that cause digestive illnesses, like norovirus and salmonella, survive the acid in stomachs and make people ill by attaching to the cells inside people’s guts.
In addition, any viral particles landing on food would not be expected to remain viable for long. Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot grow inside food, so any amount of virus in food would diminish over time, rather than grow.
When it comes to food and COVID-19, the biggest risk is contact with other people — like cashiers, restaurant staff, or people delivering food. Minimizing or completely eliminating those contacts will greatly reduce any risk associated with food.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommends that individuals wear non-medical-grade, cloth face coverings in public settings where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing, such as grocery stores. This recommendation is based on recent reports that a significant number of individuals who are infected with COVID-19 remain asymptomatic and so will continue to go out in public, where they may unwittingly infect others. If everyone wears masks, this might help prevent those who are unknowingly infected from spreading the illness.
However, the CDC emphasizes, they are not recommending that individuals purchase surgical masks or N-95 respirators that are desperately needed for frontline healthcare workers. Rather, the CDC recommends making your own. You can sew a mask or use a 3D printer; the links below are a good place to start, but lots of other patterns and how-to videos are just a web search away. This video, for example, shows you how to create a no-sew face covering using a T-shirt or face towel and a couple of rubber bands or elastic hair ties.
Do-it-yourself face masks
April 7, 2020
An N95 mask, or an “N95 particulate-filtering facepiece respirator,” is a medical-grade respirator that is designed to fit tightly around the nose and mouth. When worn correctly, it forms a tight seal on the wearer’s face and blocks out at least 95% of small airborne particles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While very uncomfortable to wear, this type of heavy-duty mask is recommended for any healthcare provider who is caring for a patient with an illness that may be transmitted through particles or droplets in the air.
No, you don’t need an N95 mask. There is no there is no recommendation from any public health agency that members of the general public wear N95 masks. Individuals with upper respiratory symptoms, such as a bad cough, are recommended to wear a surgical mask — one of those disposable blue or green gauze masks — which will help prevent them from spreading an illness to those around them. If you come into MIT Medical with upper-respiratory symptoms, we ask you to check in at the desk immediately to request one of these masks.
February 29, 2020
No, while it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not believe this is the main way the virus spreads. In addition, people who wear gloves often end up touching their faces as often as anyone else, and sometimes even more often, because gloves can give people a sense of false security, which makes them less attentive to good hygiene practices.
Although the CDC does not recommend that the general public wear disposable gloves to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or other viruses, they do recommend wearing disposable gloves if you are caring for someone who is ill, particularly when handling their laundry or potentially coming into contact with their bodily fluids.
If you have been exposed to a person with COVID-19, it could take up to 14 days to know if you will get sick. During that time, it will be important for you to self-monitor for symptoms and practice social distancing to avoid infecting other people if you do have the virus:
- Take your temperature twice a day, morning and night (and at least 30 minutes after eating, drinking, or exercising and 6 hours after taking any temperature-lowering medication, such as Ibuprofen or aspirin). Write down your temperature in a log.
- Be alert for any other symptoms of COVID-19, including cough or difficulty breathing.
- Call your healthcare provider if you have a cough, trouble breathing, or a fever (temperature of 100.4°F or 38°C). DO NOT go to an emergency room, urgent care clinic, or healthcare provider’s office without calling ahead.
- Stay home as much as possible, and avoid close contact with other people, even people you live with.
April 7, 2020
Yes, it’s possible, but it isn’t easy. The individual who is self-quarantining must stay as separate as possible from other people sharing the living space. They should stay in their own bedroom and, if possible, use a bathroom that is not shared with others. If the self-quarantining individual needs to come out of their room for any reason, they should wash their hands and wear a mask. If there’s only one bathroom, set up a bathroom rotation in which the self-quarantining individual uses the bathroom last and then disinfects it thoroughly (read more about proper disinfection techniques).
Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces frequently. This includes countertops, doorknobs, light switches, and bathroom surfaces. Wash your hands frequently.
Do not share any items with the self-quarantining individual. This includes dishes, drinking glasses, silverware, towels, phones, and remote controls. If possible, use a dishwasher to clean and dry dishes and silverware used by the self-quarantining individual. If this is not possible, wash them by hand using detergent and warm water. Dry them thoroughly, using a separate dishtowel.
Maybe. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Taking into account your individual risk of complications from contracting the virus, such as age or underlying medical conditions, it may make sense to suspend house-cleaning services during this time. However, recognizing that house-cleaners are often immigrants and low-wage workers, you may want to consider continuing to pay them if you can afford to do so.
If you do continue to use house-cleaning services, it’s important to take precautions that protect both you and the cleaners. Even though they are there to make your house clean, they could still transmit the virus to you, or you to them, if either of you were infected. Make sure your cleaners don a fresh pair of disposable gloves when they enter your home and change them often while they are working. Stay at least six feet away from your cleaners while they are in your home. Ask them not to come if they feel sick, or if you become ill. You might also think about trying to limit the amount of time they spend in your home each time they visit; perhaps more time-consuming cleaning jobs, like washing windows, can wait another month or two.
There’s no way to remove all risks associated with having people come into your house to clean, but being vigilant about following these precautions will mitigate these risks if you continue to use house-cleaning services during this time.
Yes, if you are healthy with no symptoms of upper-respiratory illness and no underlying medical conditions, and you haven’t traveled recently, then donating blood, platelets, or AB Elite plasma is one of the safest and most effective ways you can help our medical community right now.
According to the Red Cross, employees at every blood drive or donation center follow strict safety protocols that include changing gloves often, wiping down donor-touched areas after every collection, preparing the donor’s arm with an aseptic scrub, using sterile collection sets, and conducting mini-physicals to ensure that each donor is healthy and well. They are also practicing enhanced disinfecting of equipment, providing hand sanitizer for use throughout the donation process, and spacing beds to follow social distancing practices between donors.
- Children’s Hospital
- Massachusetts General Hospital
- Dana-Farber Cancer Center & Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Or go to the Red Cross website and enter your zip code to book an appointment at a location close to your home.
No. The pneumonia vaccine you got protects against a specific type of pneumonia caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. That vaccine will not protect against the type of viral pneumonia caused by COVID-19.
April 7, 2020