The new coronavirus is officially called SARS-CoV-2, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. An infection with this virus can lead to coronavirus disease 19 or COVID-19.
SARS-CoV-2 is related to the coronavirus SARS-CoV, which caused another kind of coronavirus disease in 2002 to 2003. However, from what we know so far, SARS-CoV-2 is different from other viruses and including other coronaviruses.
The evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 may spread more easily and cause life-threatening illness in some people. Like other coronaviruses, it can survive in the air and on surfaces long enough to infect someone. However, SARS-CoV-2 multiplies faster in the body even when you don’t have symptoms. Additionally, you can pass on the virus even if you never get symptoms at all.
Some people have mild to moderate symptoms only, while others have severe COVID-19 symptoms. Here are the medical facts to help us understand how to best protect ourselves and others.
Tips for prevention
Follow the guidelines to help protect yourself from catching, carrying and passing on SARS-CoV-2.
1. Wash your hands frequently and carefully
Use warm water and soap and rub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Work the lather to your wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
You can also use an antibacterial and antiviral soap. Use hand sanitizer when you cannot wash your hands properly. Rewash your hands several times a day, especially after touching anything including your phone or laptop.
2. Avoid touching your face
SARS-CoV-2 can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours. You can get the virus on your hands if you touch a surface like a doorknob, gas pump handle, or your cell phone.
Avoid touching any part of your face or head including your mouth, nose, and eyes. Also avoid biting your fingernails. This can give SARS-CoV-2 a chance to go from your hands into your body.
3. Stop shaking hands and hugging people — for now
Similarly, avoid touching other people. Skin to skin contact can pass SARS-CoV-2 from one person to another.
4. Don’t share personal items
Do not share personal items like phones, makeup, or combs. It’s also important not to share eating utensils and straws. Teach children to recognize their reusable cup, straw, and other dishes for their own use only.
5. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze
SARS-CoV-2 is found in high amounts in the nose and mouth. This means it can be carried by air droplets to other people when you cough or sneeze. It can also land on hard surfaces and stay there for up to 3 days.
Use a tissue or sneeze into your elbow to keep your hands as clean as possible. Wash your hands carefully after you sneeze or cough, regardless.
6. Clean and disinfect surfaces
Use alcohol-based disinfectants to clean hard surfaces in your home like countertops, door handles, furniture, and toys. Also clean your phone, laptop, and anything else you use regularly several times a day.
Disinfect areas after you bring groceries or packages into your home. Use white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solutions for general cleaning in between disinfecting surfaces.
7. Take social distancing seriously
If you are carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it will be found in high amounts in your spit (sputum). This can happen even if you do not have symptoms.
Social distancing means staying home and working remotely when possible. If you must go out for necessities, keep a distance of 6 feet from other people. You can transmit the virus by speaking to someone in close contact to you.
8. Do not gather in groups
Being in a group or gathering makes it more likely that you will be in close contact with someone. This includes avoiding all religious places of worship, as you may have to sit or stand too close to another congregant. It also includes congregating at parks or beaches.
9. Avoid eating or drinking in public places
Now is not the time to go out to eat. This means avoiding restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other eateries. The virus can be transmitted through food, utensils, dishes, and cups. It may also be airborne from other people in the venue.
You can still get delivery or takeaway food. Choose foods that are thoroughly cooked and can be reheated. High heat (at least 132°F/56°C, according to one recent, not-yet-peer-reviewed lab study) helps to kill coronaviruses. This means it may be best to avoid cold foods from restaurants and all food from buffets and open salad bars.
10. Wash fresh groceries
Soak all raw, whole fruits and vegetables in a solution of food-grade hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar. Let dry before putting them away in your fridge and cupboards. You can also use vegetable antibacterial wash to clean produce. Wash your hands before and after handling fresh produce.
11. Self-quarantine if sick
Call your doctor if you have any symptoms. Stay home until you recover. Avoid sitting, sleeping, or eating with your loved ones even if live in the same home.
Wear a mask and wash your hands as much as possible. If you need urgent medical care, wear a mask and let them know you may have COVID-19.
Why are these measures so important?
Following the guidelines diligently is important because SARS-CoV-2 is different than other coronaviruses including the one it’s most similar to, SARS-CoV. Ongoing medical studies show exactly why we must protect ourselves and others from getting a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Here’s how SARS-CoV-2 is different:
You may not have symptoms
You can carry or be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 without any symptoms at all. This means you may unknowingly pass it on to more vulnerable people who may become very ill.
You can still spread the virus
You can transmit or pass on the SARS-CoV-2 virus before you have any symptoms. In comparison, SARS-CoV was mainly only infectious days after symptoms began. This means that people who had the infection knew they were ill and were able to stop the spread.
It has a longer incubation time
SARS-CoV-2 may have a longer incubation time. This means that the time between getting infected and developing any symptoms is longer than other coronaviruses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)Trusted Source, SARS-CoV-2 has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days. This means that someone who is carrying the virus may come into contact with many people before symptoms begin.
You may get sicker, faster
SARS-CoV-2 may make you more unwell, much earlier. Viral loads — how many viruses you’re carrying — were highest 10 days after symptoms began for SARS CoV-1.
In comparison, doctors in China who tested 82 people with COVID-19 found that the viral load peaked 5 to 6 days after symptoms began.
This means that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may multiply and spread in someone who has COVID-19 disease almost twice as fast as other coronavirus infections.
It can stay alive in the air
Lab tests show that both SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV can stay alive in the air for up to 3 hours. Other hard surfaces like countertops, plastics, and stainless steel can harbor both viruses. The virus may stay on plastic for 72 hours and 48 hours on stainless steel.
SARS-CoV-2 can live for 24 hours on cardboard and 4 hours on copper — a longer time than other coronaviruses.
You may be very contagious
Even if you do not have symptoms, you can have the same viral load (number of viruses) in your body as a person who has severe symptoms. This means you may be just as likely to be contagious as someone who has COVID-19. In comparison, other previous coronaviruses caused lower viral loads and only after symptoms were present.
Your nose and mouth are more susceptible
A 2020 report noted that this coronavirus likes to move into your nose and mouth more than in the throat and other parts of the body. This means that you may be more likely to sneeze, cough, or breathe SARS-CoV-2 out into the air around you.
It may travel through the body faster
This coronavirus may travel through the body faster than other viruses. Data from China found that people with COVID-19 have the virus in their nose and throat only 1 day after symptoms begin.
The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source advises that wearing a mask may not be the best way to prevent getting an infection. Healthcare workers must wear masks and other protective gear because they are in closer contact with people with COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Here are the WHO guidelines for masks and this new coronavirus:
- Wearing a mask alone will not prevent you from getting a SARS-CoV-2 infection. Careful handwashing and social (physical) distancing must also be followed.
- Wash your hands before you put on your mask.
- If you are wearing a mask, avoid touching it the front of it. You can transfer the virus from your hands to the mask.
- You can also transfer the virus from the mask to your hands. Wash your hands if you touch the front of the mask.
- Know how to put on and remove a mask by touching the elastic ear straps only.
- Do not wear a mask if you are healthy and in self-quarantine.
- Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing. This may help prevent spreading the virus to others.
- If you think you may have the SARS-CoV-2 infection, wear a mask. You can spread the virus even if you don’t have any symptoms.
- Wear a mask if you are caring for someone who may have the SARS-CoV-2 infection or COVID-19 disease. It may help prevent you from catching the infection.
- Don’t write your name or initials on your mask as that will inactivate it.
- Do not reuse a worn mask. It may have the virus on it.
- Throw away used masks in a closed bin.
When to call your doctor
Call your doctor if you think you or a family member may have a SARS-CoV-2 infection or if you have any symptoms of COVID-19. Do not go to a medical clinic or hospital. This helps to avoid spreading the virus.
Be extra watchful for worsening symptoms if you or your loved one has an underlying condition that may give you a higher chance of getting severe COVID-19, such as:
- asthma or other lung disease
- heart disease
- low immune system
The CDC Trusted Source advises getting emergency medical attention if you have COVID-19 warning signs. These include:
- difficulty breathing
- pain or pressure in the chest
- blue-tinged lips or face
- drowsiness and inability to wake
The bottom line
Taking these prevention strategies seriously is extremely important to stop the spread of this virus. Practicing good hygiene, following these guidelines, and encouraging your friends and family to do the same will go a long way in preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2