While many feel that COVID is “over,” the Delta variant is surging and the number of cases are increasing for the first time in months. Curfews and mask mandates are even being resumed in many countries and cities. 

This blog series will explore COVID-19; what it is, how it evolved, how it has affected the specific groups, our ecosystem and the entire world.  This first installment is some general information and facts about COVID-19. It is a good refresher and maybe you will learn something new. 

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) is a coronavirus. In Latin, Corona means crown and refers to the crown like appearance that coronaviruses get from the spike proteins sticking out of them. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can infect people and many animals (including camels, cattle, dogs, cats, and bats). There are many seven types of coronaviruses that can infect humans.  Four of them cause a common head or chest cold.  Two others, MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome) are extremely dangerous but much less widespread.  The final coronavirus is COVID-19. 

COVID-19 is a virus that was discovered in December of 2019 in Wuhan, China. The first diagnosed case in the United States occurred on January 20, 2020, in the state of Washington. On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and officially announced the official name for the disease. 

  • CO stands for corona
  • VI stands for virus
  • D stands for disease
  • 19 stands for 2019 (when the virus was first discovered)

How is COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 is spread in three main ways:

  1. Breathing small droplets or particles exhaled by an infected person
  2. Infected droplets landing or being splashed (like through a cough or sneeze) on your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  3. Touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.

Due to the mechanism of transmission, people within 6 feet of an infected person are more likely to get infected. Anyone infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus, even if they do NOT have symptoms and in some circumstances they may even contaminate surfaces they touch. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours before they have any symptoms or test positive.

Mutations

Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are always expected to occur. Sometimes these new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, they persist. For example, the variant that caused the first U.S. COVID-19 cases is no longer detected among variants circulating in the country.

Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented throughout the world during this pandemic. Some variations allow the virus to spread more easily or make it resistant to treatments or vaccines. Currently there are four notable variants in the United States:

  1. Alpha: First detected in the United States in December 2020, it was initially detected in the United Kingdom.
  2. Beta: Initially detected in South Africa in December of 2020 and reached the US at the end of January 2021. 
  3. Gamma: First detected in the US in January 2021 but first found in travelers from Brazil, earlier in the month.
  4. Delta: So far the worst of the variants, it was initially identified in India in December of 2020 and made its way to the US in March of 2021.  

As of 8/3/21, the Delta variant now accounts for more than 83% of COVID-19 cases (CDC, 2021). This is a significant increase from one month ago when it accounted for just over 30% of new cases. So far, studies suggest that the current authorized vaccines work on all of the circulating variants. 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

People with COVID-19 have reported a wide variety of symptoms – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Because some of the symptoms of the common cold, the flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.  Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Fever/Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting or diarrhea

Who is at the greatest risk?

There are several groups that are more likely to contract COVID-19 and get seriously ill from it. This could mean these groups might need hospitalization, intensive care, a ventilator to help them breathe, or they might even die. 

  • Older adults – Over 80% of COVID-19 deaths occur in people over 65, and over 95% are people older than 45. 
  • Those with certain underlying or chronic medical conditions. (ex. cancer, chronic respiratory or heart conditions, dementia/Alzheimer’s, diabetes, HIV, autoimmune diseases, pregnant women, and those overweight or obese).
  • Many racial and ethnic minority groups
  • People with disabilities (ex. Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism and spina bifida)

What precautions should you take?

  • Masks (especially in crowded indoor or outdoor settings or activities with those not vaccinated)
  • Vaccines
  • Frequent handwashing/hand sanitizer
  • Social distancing (especially with those who are sick or not vaccinated)
  • Choosing outdoor activities when able
  • Eat well, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest
  • Do not share personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils
  • Clean high touch surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, countertops, keyboards, toilets, and sinks daily.
  • Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow 
  • Avoid indoor spaces that do not offer fresh air from the outdoors.  If indoors, open doors and doors if possible.
  • Outside your home keep 6 feet of distance between yourself and people who do not live in your household

Animals, food, water

Although rare, COVID-19 can spread from people to animals in some situations. Pet cats and dogs can sometimes become infected after close contact with people with COVID-19. However, there has been no evidence to suggest that people can get COVID-19 by handling or consuming food or drinking water.   

Testing

COVID-19 tests are available that can test for current infection or past infection.

  • A viral test (either nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) or antigen test) tells you if you have a current infection. 
  • An antibody test might tell you if you had a past infection but does not diagnose a current infection. 

Contact your healthcare provider or visit your state, city, or county health department’s website to find the latest local information on testing. You and your healthcare provider might also consider either an at-home collection kit or test.

Fully vaccinated people should be tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.  CDC recommends that anyone with any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 get tested, regardless of vaccination status or prior infection. 

Current statistics

March 11, 2021, marked one year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic – the first one since the Spanish Flu in 1918. At the time of the announcement, there were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people had died. As of August 7, 2021, the number of cases worldwide have reached 201,941,078 with 4,282,897. The United States leads all countries with 36,234,290 cases and 626,659 deaths. 

That is COVID-19 in a nutshell.  Of course, nothing in life is that easy.  Unfortunately, COVID-19 has inserted its way into more aspect of our lives than just our physical health.  This blog series will explore more of those in-depth.   Stay tuned for our next blog in our COVID series….  The Ways COVID-19 is Affecting The World’s Children.

References

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/02/opinions/worrisome-thing-about-delta-variant-sepkowitz/index.html
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html
https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home
https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019