Health & health care

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – The Facts

Coronavirus COVID-19

Note: This post has not been updated since March and thus some of the information contained here may not reflect the current state of knowledge.  Please refer to the World Health Organization or your local public health agencies for the most up-to-date information on COVID-19.


Coronavirus has caught everyone’s attention and emptied store shelves of hand sanitizer, masks, and toilet paper.  As the disease gains more traction across the globe, people start to panic, and that sends logical reasoning straight out the window.

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a type of coronavirus, specifically severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).  Coronaviruses also infect animals, and a lot of people and a lot of animals being in close proximity, China is a prime area where viruses can mutate and jump from animals to humans.

COVID-19 typically involves fever, fatigue, and dry cough.  Some people have no symptoms at all, while about 1 in 6 become very ill and develop breathing problems, progressing to pneumonia and even death.  This is most likely to happen in the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

The virus spreads by droplet transmission.  From the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) site, it sounds like they haven’t entirely ruled out airborne transmission, but droplet is the main method of transmission.  Droplet transmission means that the virus is carried in small droplets of respiratory secretions, like what’s produced by coughing or sneezing.

Airborne transmission doesn’t require any droplets, so it can spread more easily, as is the case with measles and tuberculosis.  Coronavirus does not appear to spread that way; you get it by someone coughing on you, or more likely by touching a surface that is contaminated.

Ways to protect yourself

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, especially when in public areas where there are surfaces that people are commonly touching.  Hand sanitizer is more convenient when out and about, but regular soap and water will do just fine.  Surfaces like doorknobs and railings that a lot of people are touching are most likely to be germy.
  • Try to avoid touching your face – you don’t want to touch a contaminated surface and then rub your nose, mouth, or eyes, giving the virus an open door into your body
  • Stay several feet away from anyone who’s coughing
  • Don’t shake hands with people

Ways to protect others

  • If you are coughing, do it into your elbow to help contain droplet spread
  • Consider self-isolating is you have symptoms of respiratory illness

What doesn’t help

  • The influenza vaccine – The pumpkin in chief wondered if the flu vaccine would help.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Vaccines are very specific, and don’t do anything other than what they’re made for.
  • The pneumonia vaccine – Ditto.  A vaccine for COVID-19 isn’t coming anytime soon.
  • Buying a year’s supply of toilet paper

The low-down on masks

There is a more recent post on the use of non-medical masks here.

There are two different types of masks, neither of which the average person needs to be wearing.

N95 respiratorN95 respirators form a seal around the mouth and nose to protect the wearer from airborne (not just droplet-borne) particles.  The type of respirator needs to be fit-tested to the individual to ensure a proper seal on their face.

The only people that should be wearing these are health professionals treating people with COVID-19, as per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  This is because they’ll be getting very up close and personal with the person’s respiratory secretions.


blue surgical mask
AlexChirkin / CC0

Then you’ve got your basic surgical mask.  Surgical masks don’t keep small particles out.  They’re actually most useful if you’re the one who’s sick, because if you sneeze or cough you’re not spraying it all over everyone else and infecting them.

If you’re trying to protect yourself from others, a mask would only be slightly helpful if you’re within a couple feet of someone with the virus who’s coughing, spraying respiratory droplets into the few feet of space directly around them.

For the most part, though, you’re probably not going to be getting that up close and personal with someone who’s ill, and you’re most likely to come in contact with the virus by touching a surface and then touching your face.  A surgical mask is going to do nada for that.

Fake news and fear-mongering

Unfortunately, situations like this mean party time for the ignorant.  The World Health Organization recently released a mortality rate of 3.4% for COVID-19.  The pumpkin in chief expressed his view that this was a “false number.”  Based on his own “hunch,” the mortality rate is “way under 1%.”  And sure, the W.H.O. number may be a bit off, but the president of the United States pulling things out of his ass his not helping anything.

So, don’t worry about the hand sanitizer or surgical masks.  Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.  And if the only toilet paper left at the store is that enviro-friendly recycled crap, I’m not going to be impressed.



There’s more on pubic health in the Science Corner.

I’ve put together a COVID-19 coping toolkit with some resources to help with managing the stress of the current pandemic.




60 thoughts on “Coronavirus (COVID-19) – The Facts”

  1. You’re a voice of reason in an insane world! Thanks for the info! I knew the stuff about the masks, but some of this I didn’t know!

      1. This will sound ridiculous, but you’re a woman of science, so maybe you can weigh in on this. I’m afraid to use hand sanitizer. I always have been, ever since high school (I think) when I saw an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which a girl’s hands spontaneously combusted. Hand sanitizer is alcohol-based, right? For that reason, I always use soap, and hand sanitizer scares me. Is my fear irrational, or can hand sanitizer actually increase your combustibility (near an open flame, etc.)?

  2. Great post. Useful for people to read. I just read an article 5 mins ago about people stealing alcohol gel from hospitals. Taking it from patients bedsides and pulling the dispensers off the walls! Ignorance leads to some serious crazy behaviour!

  3. The thing that’s annoying about the masks is that people either say they help or they don’t. It’s in-between— the average person COULD help by wearing them, IF they’ve contracted the virus. People buying them without already having the virus then just stop them being used usefully by those who do.

    1. It still annoys me though when people start off by saying the masks don’t help, then ‘concede’ that they may help for people already with the virus. I feels irresponsible, as more people will read only the first statement than read both.

      1. Wearing a mask doesn’t help people with the virus. They’ve already got it, so it makes no difference to them. It just provides a bit of a barrier to reduce the spread of their secretions.

        1. Yeah, I just mean that it’s never clear that it’s not Nobody should/could wear a mask, because they always start with simply saying masks won’t help, full stop. Then go on to say they may help prevent the spread of it— which is a pretty big deal!

  4. I hate hand sanitizer ~ it’s sticky and doesn’t make me feel clean at all. I like hand wipes, which of course are hard to find now. I ordered some, but I hope they aren’t teensy. It’s good to keep some in my purse, Covid19 or not. This is just a good excuse to stay away from people, yay!

    1. I love baby wipes for sensitive skin. They’re soap-based, but you can even use them to dust furniture and clean around the house. I use them for just about everything!

  5. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this information with your followers.

    People are panicking in my part of the world; they are acting as if COVID-19 is going to appear on their doorstep anytime soon.

  6. We have a permanently compromised immune system with susceptibility to respiratory illness. Older Child said we can’t be together for a while once Spring Break is over (end of month) because people at college will go all over the country/world and then (if school reconvenes…) congregate. Older Child doesn’t want to get exposed and then infect us. We are not worried about getting sick. That is, we don’t really care. We do not cling to life so strongly that we would pull Ecolab foam dispensers off the hospital wall. Hadn’t heard of that. We would not like to infect others, though, so we won’t try to get sick on purpose.

    Older Child implored us to wash our hands more. We have germ obsessions and have worked very, very, very hard for years to overcome them, which means we take fewer precautions than someone with a healthy immune system. Since we don’t congregate, we have been at low risk of infection. Will we remember to wash our hands more when we are at therapy or at Younger Child’s school play? Will we stop touching our face? And if we do, will it open the door to compulsive behavior again? Maybe. We’ll just have to wait and see as life unfolds. Thanks for the facts

    1. Several of my family members laugh at me because I do believe it was lab created or at least lab released into the Chinese population somehow. I don’t just believe illnesses like these “happen”. I have a conspiracy theory mind. I believe those involved wanted to see how quickly it would spread, how quickly people would die, how quickly a cure or treatment would come about and who would be the first to do it. It’s a complete distraction also and has caused a domino effect amongst the stock market, travel, etc.. but, hey, I live in my own world of theories

  7. Thank you for posting this. In a world that has gone awry with fear-mongering (AND on the opposite end of the spectrum, downplaying of actual risks), you are one of the few voices of reason!!

  8. Thank goodness for intelligent people like you who set the record straight. I love the term “pumpkin in Chief.” If anything, the president’s basic job is to make us feel safe. That’s not the case here.

  9. Here in Italy we had 41 death in a day, and the fact that they where all over 60 doesn’t mean they are not people. I’m scared for all the elder in my country, and my fear is valid. If you are in a red zone, you don’t have to go outside if is not super necessary, not going in a crowded places, sneeze in your elbow. Who can minimaze the situation don’t know how it is to live it in first person.

    1. Italian people are under the dangerous.Actually people in the world are dangerous and there is no vaccine to avoid Covid-19 yet. So we should not wait that death coming to us. we stay at hone and take care of our-self. I hope people get well soon. God bless everyone in the world.

  10. An interesting and factual read, Ashley! I’m going to send this to my other USA friends who are anxious.

    As you might already know, my country is beating back Covid-19. And yeah, most non elderly (like below age 70) healthy, non immunopromised folks will be fine.

    1. It’s interesting to see the level of panic this has been triggering. Yes, there is risk, but stealing hand sanitizer from hospitals isn’t a reasonable response.

  11. Thank you for this great post, I thoroughly valued reading it. I have been very disappointed with the media’s coverage of the Coronavirus outbreak so I have recently published an article on my blog about what we should be worried about and how we can protect ourselves and others. If you have time, it would be great if you could check out my post and let me know your thoughts! Thanks 🙂

    1. I think it’s because people are worried about running out of toilet paper if they have to go into quarantine. I’d say there are far bigger things to worry about…

  12. I read all of your posts and this one slipped through the cracks. Very good information, it is really not that difficult to take some easy steps to protect yourself and others.
    I love love the social distance term, I hope it stays in everyone’s vocabulary so I can feel comfortable when going out 🙂

  13. Scary times, but plenty of opportunities within! I’ve recently wrote about them.

    May these opportunities help you in struggling well.

    Thanks for sharing!

  14. With all due respect, the information you’ve posted was correct as of its date, but things have changed.

    For instance, the mortality rate is close to 0.00% in South Korea. In Georgia, U.S., the mortality rate is somewhat higher, but not 3%. And while CDC recommended masks only for those in direct contact, or potential contact, with infected individuals, CDC is discussing this recommendation. Most likely in response to South Korea’s “lessons learned.” While at the time you published, droplets were considered the only transmission of SARS-COV-2, recently transmission is also by smaller particles, particles normal surgical masks won’t filter.

    The SARS-COV-2 virus differs from its cousins in the coronavirus family. It is much more refined. it is also little understood.

    Additionally, calling the President of the United States “The pumpkin in chief,” demeans anything you might have to say that might be of value, and even factual. While we may or may not agree with the person in the office, the office of the President of the United States should always be treated with respect and honor. It dishonors the office to say “Pumkin in Chief.”

    My $0.02 adjusted for inflation.

  15. Informative post! You packed in a lot in here about COVID-19, much of which I’m sure is helpful to folks trying to get a handle on what’s happening. I found the sections on “how to protect” helpful. What we know about this virus is very fluid and there’s a lot to decipher and discern. While I don’t agree with your assessment of our country’s leadership and I think it detracts from what you are communicating, I support your freedom and right to express yourself, especially on your own blog. We don’t all have to agree on everything. But we do each other if we’re going to get through this thing that’s killing people, destroying lives, and wrecking our economy. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Kudos on your work as a nurse in the mental health field. It’s certainly an area where people need help, especially in this unparalleled times. Be well. Best, TDG

  16. I posted on mental heath check during quarantine check it out and maybe your suggestions can be taken into consideration . Come talk about your feelings and emotions in the comments .

  17. I believe the last part about avoiding the fear mongering and fake news is super important, having people freak out isn’t going to help at all with dealing with this pandemic. Stay rational, stay smart, and ride this pandemic out.

  18. I love your site. My thanks for sharing such a good post. I was looking for thoughts on this topic last Thursday. I will come back to read more and inform my coworkers about your site. Do you know how “CompanySecretaryAustralia” is feeding young children during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can also help, search for it.

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