One of the worst symptoms of any plague is uncertainty—who it will strike, when it will end, why it began. Merely understanding a pandemic does not stop it, but an informed public can help curb its impact and slow its spread. It can also provide a certain ease of mind in a decidedly uneasy time. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 pandemic from TIME’s readers, along with the best and most current answers science can provide.
A note about our sourcing: While there are many, many studies underway investigating COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-19, the novel coronavirus that causes the illness, it is still essentially brand new to science. As a result, while we’ve drawn primarily on peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals, we have cited some yet-to-be-published research into important aspects of COVID-19 when appropriate.
- What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
- Who’s most at risk for COVID-19?
- Are children at risk?
- How long does COVID-19 last?
- How long is COVID-19 infectious in people?
- Can I get COVID-19 and the seasonal flu or common cold at the same time?
- What’s the treatment for COVID-19?
- How does a COVID-19 test work?
- Should I get tested?
- How does COVID-19 spread?
- Is COVID-19 airborne?
- Is there any difference between being indoors or outdoors when it comes to transmission?
- Do masks work for preventing the spread of COVID-19?
- How long does the COVID-19 virus survive on surfaces?
- Is there any risk of the COVID-19 virus living on mail & packages?
- Is there any risk with food delivery services?
- Does rain wash away the COVID-19 virus?
- What should I do to shop safely?
- Should I worry about my clothes after I’ve been outside?
- Can I get COVID-19 more than once?
- If I get COVID-19 and recover, am I immune and safe to be around/help out older family and neighbors?
- I’ve been social distancing for two weeks. When is it safe for me to go see family?
- Can my dog or cat get COVID-19?
- Can the COVID-19 virus live on my pet’s fur?
- Do flies, mosquitoes, or other insects carry or transmit the virus?
- Can cleaning products kill the COVID-19 virus?
- Does it matter what type of soap I use to wash my hands?
- What are the practices for doing laundry in a shared/public laundry room?
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Studies have shown that while some COVID-19 patients get only very mild symptoms or none at all, some can develop severe pneumonia and other health issues. A World Health Organization report from February found that around 80% of patients with laboratory confirmed cases “have mild disease and recover.” Researchers are not certain how many people infected with the virus are nearly or entirely asymptomatic. “There is not a single reliable study to determine the number of [asymptomatic sufferers],” says a metastudy conducted by scientists from Oxford University, and published online on April 6. “It is likely we will only learn the true extent once population-based antibody testing is undertaken,” write the study authors. (The metastudy, which looked at 21 earlier studies from around the world, has not been peer-reviewed.) The only way to know for sure if you are infected with SARS-CoV-19, the virus that causes COVID-19, is to get tested.
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