This story has been updated as of Thursday March 12, 12:28 p.m. PT. Please bookmark this page and check back regularly for COVID-19 news you can use to protect yourself and your loved ones.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic rapidly evolves, rumors have swirled around the globe, spreading misinformation and fear.
The concern is understandable. More than 125,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,600 deaths have been reported globally since the coronavirus known as COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late December, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
But of the confirmed cases, only 1,215 have been identified in the U.S., and more than 40 cases have been found among Americans repatriated from Asia. 36 U.S. deaths have been reported so far from COVID-19. By contrast, the vast majority of cases and deaths have been reported in China, where a torrent of media coverage has shown healthcare workers covered head to toe in protective gear and members of the public wearing masks.
"There are a lot of myths and misinformation out there about this coronavirus," said infectious diseases specialist Jonathan Grein, MD, director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai. "The classic example I see is people walking around wearing masks in public in the U.S. While masks can be helpful in healthcare settings to prevent disease transmission in close-contact environments, there is no evidence that wearing a mask in public provides any protection. Masks are likely not providing any benefit in public spaces, and wearing them diverts those resources from people who actually need them, like healthcare workers."
Grein leads the Special Pathogens Response Team at Cedars-Sinai, which is one of 10 federally-funded response centers trained to treat highly infectious diseases such as Ebola. To separate myth from reality, the Newsroom asked him what the medical community knows so far about the coronavirus.
The number of cases here remains small. For this reason, your risk of walking around in public in the U.S. and getting this virus currently is extremely low.
Who's at risk of catching COVID-19 in the U.S.?
We currently don't yet have widespread community transmission of this coronavirus in the U.S. The number of cases here is very small. Your risk of walking around in public and getting this virus remains low.
How does COVID-19 spread?
We're still learning a lot about COVID-19. What we do know is that the family of viruses that we call coronaviruses—which range from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) to the common cold—are respiratory viruses. They typically spread to others through respiratory secretions and large droplets that only travel a few feet when someone coughs or sneezes. It's not yet clear whether this coronavirus can travel longer distances through the air like airborne diseases such as measles and tuberculosis.
How can people in the U.S. avoid getting COVID-19?
People can avoid getting this virus using the same advice that's applied to the flu. Hand washing is probably the most important defense because we frequently touch items and touch our faces—especially when we eat—and respiratory viruses spread through contact with the mucous membranes in your nose, mouth or eyes. Also avoid being in close contact with people who are coughing or sneezing.
Should you wear a mask in public in the U.S.?
There is no evidence showing the benefit of wearing a mask out in public places in the U.S. In fact, there may be drawbacks. When you wear a mask, the outer surface can become contaminated, which can potentially increase your risk of becoming infected if you pull it down under your nose or chin, or touch it with your hands.
What are typical symptoms of COVID-19?
It's common to have flu-like symptoms including a fever, cough, headache, muscle aches and maybe a sore throat. In more severe cases, patients may develop a pneumonia (infection of the lung tissue), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and a severe cough.
What should you do if you think you've developed symptoms of COVID-19?
When at all possible, you should call ahead to your healthcare provider before visiting them so that when you show up, healthcare workers can take the appropriate precautions to immediately isolate you and prevent exposure to others. A phone call to your provider also can clarify your actual risk. Only go to the Emergency Department for serious life-threatening issues like difficulty breathing or chest pain. Most patients who have flu-like symptoms or are worried about the coronavirus can be evaluated in a clinic or an urgent care center.
What's the typical length of an illness caused by COVID-19?
There's not a lot of data out there yet, and there has been a wide spectrum of illness described: some shorter and milder and some longer and more severe. For some people, it could last two to three weeks. Others with milder cases have recovered more quickly. Early in pandemics, you get very limited data because healthcare providers usually are identifying more severe cases and may be overlooking milder symptoms. Healthcare workers are only now starting to see a large proportion of patients who are very mildly ill. It's still a very fluid situation.
Where can members of the public get accurate, timely information about this virus?
The WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are great resources and update their information regularly, along with state and local health departments in the U.S.
Read more about the Special Pathogens Response Team on the Cedars-Sinai blog: Ready for Anything