As most people in the world are now acutely aware, an outbreak of COVID-19 was detected in mainland China in December of 2019. As of this writing, every continent in the world has been affected by this highly contagious disease, with nearly a million cases diagnosed in over 200 countries worldwide.

The cause of this outbreak is a new virus, known as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). On February 12, 2020, WHO officially named the disease caused by the novel coronavirus as Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses such as the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

COVID-19 likely originated in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China. A wet market refers to a marketplace with vendors selling live animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, fish, and bats. The name “wet market” is a reference to the need to be constantly washing the floors in these venues due to animal slaughter and to the melting ice used to preserve the food.

The common denominator among those who caught the virus in China had some level of exposure to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. Researchers believe the new virus probably mutated from a coronavirus common in animals which jumped over to humans in the Wuhan marketplace.

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the new coronavirus may be transmitted through expelled droplets. These droplets can enter a person’s system through “contact routes,” such as the mouth, eyes, or nose. It is also possible for the droplets to be inhaled into the lungs.

Contact with various surfaces is another means for contracting the virus. The National Institutes of Health’s website states, “The virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces, according to a new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine. The scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”

Implementing the following strategies can greatly reduce the spread of this highly contagious disease.

Wash your hands thoroughly for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and hot water. This is especially important to do after sneezing or coughing, before eating and preparing food, and after going to the bathroom.

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It is important while in public and in contact with other people and store products, not to touch your face until you’ve returned home and can wash your hands. Stay home if you are feeling sick. If you are coughing or sneezing, be sure to cover your mouth with your sleeve or a napkin or tissue. Throw the napkin or tissue into the trash afterwards.  Limit close contact with others as much as possible (“social distancing”). The recommended space between people is six feet.

Right now, many people are making trips to the grocery stores and / or pharmacies as their only outing, since the U.S. government recommends that all Americans must continue to avoid nonessential travel, which includes eating at bars and restaurants, gathering in larger groups, and–for some–going to work.

It is also important to note the incubation period of the coronavirus. The “incubation period” means the time between catching the virus and the time when symptoms of the disease begin to emerge. This is a critical period of time because when people do not know they have the disease, they may not be as vigilant in being careful not to spread it. U.S. government scientists have strongly recommended that the general public operate as though they already have the virus, in order to err on the side of caution with respect to infecting others. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, though the virus most commonly surfaces with symptoms around day five.

Call your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms such as cough, fever, shortness of breath, especially if you have been in contact with a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you have recently traveled to an area that is highly infected with the disease. In order to avoid the possibility of spreading the disease, it is very important to call and consult with your doctor’s office before going out to seek medical attention.

Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and are able to recover at home without medical care. After evaluating your symptoms, your doctor may recommend medical care, depending on severity of symptoms as well as possible exposure.

For more information on COVID-19, please visit:

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NIH: Coronavirus news, funding and resources for global health researchers

Mayo Clinic: Novel Coronavirus FAQ

NPR: Why they’re called wet markets

Newsweek: What is a wet market?

CDC: How COVID-19 Spreads

WHO: Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)