What You Need to Know About COVID-19

A Q&A-style guide about the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, the president of DePaul University, Dr. A. Gabriel Esteban, sent out an email informing students that Winter Quarter finals will not take place on campus and that Spring Quarter classes will be held online. DePaul has been updating the community regularly about the virus and precautionary steps the university is taking to protect students and staff. Here is what we know so far about the virus, where to go for testing and how to protect against it.

What we know about the virus

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Developing two to 14 days after exposure, the symptoms of COVID-19, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are fever, cough and shortness of breath.

What is a pandemic? 

According to the WHO, “a pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease.”  

COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan, China, and reported to the WHO on December 31, 2019. On January 30, 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

How is COVID-19 transmitted?

Generally speaking, COVID-19 is transmitted in the same way as influenza: through droplets of fluid passed on by infected individuals. However, COVID-19 does not transmit as readily as influenza. Unlike influenza, individuals who are infected but are yet to be sick are very unlikely to pass on the virus to others, per the WHO. Symptoms typically develop in two days.

How quickly COVID-19 spreads is hard to determine and appears to vary by region. 

How worried should we be about the spread of COVID-19?

The CDC is recommending that all communities prepare for an outbreak of COVID-19. The CDC assembled a resource library of preventative measures specific to various types of gathering spaces. In general, an infected individual typically transmits the disease to anywhere from two to three other people. It is thus recommended that all those who think they may have been in contact with the disease or may be exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to get tested (information on testing may be found below). 

What are the chances of recovery?

For most, the chances of a full recovery from a case of COVID-19 are quite high. However, the chance of recovery varies by person. The CDC states that older adults and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes are at an increased risk of succumbing to the disease. It is recommended that these individuals take increased measures to ensure their health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

Which countries have the highest number of cases?

In the U.S., there are currently about 1,700 reported cases of COVID-19. That number is about 81,000 less cases than China, about 12,500 less than Italy and about 10,000 less than Iran. The U.S. ranks 8th in the world for most reported cases.

When will this end?

No one knows for sure. Though vaccines are being produced at record speeds, it may take a year or more for these to be approved. This is normal for the development of vaccines.The warming of the seasons in the northern hemisphere may slow the rate at which the virus progresses, but this is uncertain. Officially, the CDC says that the virus “could last for a long time.”

What to do if you think you have COVID-19

How do I get tested? 

First contact your local healthcare provider. They will likely contact the CDC and/or the Chicago Health Department. From there, you might be sent to a special lab for the test. There are several ways to test for COVID-19. A swab test can be done to sample the nose or throat. A healthcare professional could also take a blood sample. 

Where do I go? 

It is best to contact your healthcare provider or go to a nearby clinic for an initial diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will be in contact with the CDC or Chicago Health Department to determine if additional testing for the virus is needed. Emergency room visits should only be made in the event of very severe cases, due to the risk of spreading the virus to others in the hospital and a threat to overwhelming the hospital’s resources with an influx of testing cases. Additionally, you can call 1-800-889-3931 or email dph.sick@illinois.gov

Will the cost be covered? 

Yes, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have paid for the current tests. Once commercial testing becomes available, insurance companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, Cigna, and Humana  will cover the cost. For uninsured individuals, the federal government is considering using disaster relief funds to pay for potential treatment costs.

Should I take off work? 

If you are feeling sick you should stay home. Go to your doctor or local healthcare center if you have any symptoms, including a fever, cough or shortness of breath. 

Why are there reports from people who have experienced difficulties with getting tested?

Put simply, there were no preexisting plans or resources for widespread testing of COVID-19. Until March 2, all tests results had to be sent in to the CDC by state governments. This process took a significant amount of time and slowed the rate at which the tests could be conducted. However, the CDC now allows for the tests to be done by the states themselves, increasing efficiency. In general, those who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, are an at-risk individual or are a health care worker exhibiting symptoms within 14 days of contact with an infected individual, are eligible for testing.

How to protect yourself

How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

The WHO lists out some general practices for COVID-19 prevention. It is recommended that proper hand washing be practiced — an alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be used if necessary. The WHO also recommends maintaining a distance of at least three feet between yourself and anyone you observe to be coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes and nose, and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. When in public, consider using alternative forms of greetings other than shaking hands, such as bows, waves or nods. 

Are particulate masks effective? Should I buy one? 

For most people, the answer is “no.” The WHO only recommends wearing a mask if you are exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or are taking care of someone with the illness. It is advised that those not falling under these categories do not purchase a mask due to a global shortage in masks arising from the pandemic. The shortage has put a strain on professionals who rely on them for their daily safety. The application of the WHO’s general practices listed above are enough to prevent against the virus, and a mask does little to provide additional protections for the average person.

What disinfectants work to prevent COVID-19? Which ones don’t?

It is recommended that hands are washed, not just sanitized, whenever possible. However, in a pinch, alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least a 60 percent alcohol content are recommended by the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is essential for all consumers to check the labels on their hand sanitizer to ensure that they are alcohol-based and contain 60 percent alcohol. Some of the leading brands of hand sanitizer sell alcohol-free alternatives, which are not proven to work effectively against the virus. Additionally, varying home recipes for hand sanitizer that are circulating the web, such as one involving the use of vodka for an alcohol-base, are not effective, as their ingredients do not contain the recommended 60 percent alcohol.

For general surfaces like tables and doorknobs, the CDC recommends a mixture of five tablespoons bleach per gallon of water, disinfectants containing at least a 70 percent alcohol content or any general household disinfectant registered with the EPA are effective. When cleaning, it is recommended that gloves be used and regular hand washing be practiced.

What about public transit?

The CDC recommends that all sick individuals  avoid using public transit and wear masks when riding in a vehicle. Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Metra workers have taken up additional daily cleaning measures to address the growing concern of COVID-19. In response to public health authorities, public transit authorities in Chicago have been advised that changes in their daily operations are not necessary.

What about domestic travel?

The CDC recommends conducting a risk analysis survey for all domestic travel, as follows: If COVID-19 is especially prevalent in your area of departure or planned area of travel, it is recommended that you postpone plans. If visiting high risk individuals, it is also recommended that you consider the risk and postpone your travel plans to avoid potential exposure to those individuals.

Do I need to stock up on food? 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends assembling a two-week supply of enough food, water and essential medications in the event of a home quarantine situation resulting from a pandemic. The CDC recommends that those most at risk take additional care to stock up on these recommended goods and take extra care to follow the recommended preventative guidelines.

If you have any other questions, DePaul’s Office of Health Promotion and Wellness can be reached at 773-325-7129 or hpw@depaul.edu. Additionally, DePaul will keep the community posted with new updates on their COVID-19 Updates and Guidance page.

Related 14 East stories:

DePaul & COVID-19: What We Know So Far

DePaul Final Exams to Move Online, Spring Quarter to be Remote in Response to COVID-19

DePaul’s On-Campus Housing: What Residents Need to Know

College Students Across the Country Cope with Academic Changes as COVID-19 Spreads


Header image by Jenni Holtz and Yusra Shah, 14 East

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