coronavirus

Your Guide to the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic

What to know about the COVID-19 outbreak

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The new coronavirus first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 has infected more than one million people and caused more than 55,000 deaths worldwide. The number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 surpassed 225,000. The number of the people infected in the U.S. surpassed a quarter-million and the death toll has climbed past 6,600. Those numbers continue to rise.

The virus outbreak has sent millions into quarantine and self-isolation and wreaked havoc on the world's economy. The World Health Organization officially declared the crisis a pandemic on March 11 with President Donald Trump declaring a national emergency two days later.

And a new, dire prediction from the White House said as many as 240,000 people could die in the United States from the coronavirus pandemic — unless Americans willingly stay at home.

Countries battling the outbreak have shuttered restaurants, schools and limited public gatherings to enforce social distancing. The U.S. has restricted border crossings with both Mexico and Canada. At least 38 states and Washington, D.C. have now issued stay-at-home orders or recommended people stay home. Other cities and counties in other states have done the same, and temporary hospitals are being set up to handle the overflow of patients in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Louisiana and other hard-hit areas.

How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart

New York has quickly become the epicenter of the American coronavirus outbreak. This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 10th case.

Source: Johns Hopkins University
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

On March 16, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first issued broad guidelines to avoid unnecessary exposure, urging Americans to limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people, continue their education at home, avoid discretionary travel and avoid bars, restaurants and food courts.

President Trump, after having expressed hope to open up the country by Easter, has since called for extensive social distancing efforts to remain until the end of April. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, has warned the U.S. could see millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths. 

A new, dire prediction from the White House says as many as 240,000 people could die in the United States from the coronavirus pandemic — unless Americans willingly stay at home. So far, 32 states issued stay at home orders, covering three out of four Americans.

The virus' official name is “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019,” or COVID-19. Here's what else you should know.

How Long Will the Coronavirus Outbreak Last?

Fauci said on March 20 that Americans will most likely have to continue staying at home and practicing social distancing for “at least several weeks" but Trump has now acknowledged that his administration may need to extend social distancing guidelines again at the end of April.

He said he now hopes the U.S. will be on the road to recovery by June.

For the latest information, check out the CDC's website, as well as the World Health Organization's site. State and city governments are also sharing phone numbers for local hotlines and other resources. Follow all our coronavirus coverage here.

At a White House coronavirus task force briefing, Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of food and drugs at the FDA, showed a new point-of-care coronavirus test that can give results in about 5 minutes.

Coronavirus Testing: What to Know

The availability of coronavirus tests in the United States is changing rapidly and may depend on where you live. NBC News reached out to the health departments for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories for information on how they are handling testing and what recommendations they have for people seeking tests.

How to Get a Coronavirus Test

What Are the Symptoms of Coronavirus?

What to know if you think you or someone close to you might be infected: Based on the reported cases of the virus, the CDC has narrowed the symptoms to fever, cough and shortness of breath.

There is also some evidence that sudden loss of smell and altered taste could be a warning sign for COVID-19, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology and a British group of nose and throat doctors.

For children, symptoms are also mild and similar to those adults exhibit. But unlike many adults children with COVID-9 may experience gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, Dr. Patricia Whitley-Williams, chief of pediatric infectious disease at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, told TODAY.

Symptoms of the virus appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. The average incubation time, though, is five days, and 97.5% of people infected with the virus will show symptoms within 12 days, according to a recent study.

Call your doctor for advice if you think you've developed COVID-19 symptoms.

Who Can Spread the Virus?

Health experts have warned, though, that more evidence is emerging that coronavirus infections are being spread by people who have no clear symptoms, complicating efforts to gain control of the pandemic.

A study conducted by researchers in Singapore and published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the latest to estimate that around 10% of new coronavirus infections may be sparked by people who were infected with the virus but not experiencing symptoms.

In response to recent studies, the CDC changed how it was defining the risk of infection for Americans. The agency's latest guidance targets people who have no symptoms but were exposed to persons with known or suspected infections. It essentially says that anyone may be a considered a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not.

Is There a Coronavirus Vaccine?

Global efforts are underway to develop a vaccine for the virus, but experts have cautioned it could take over a year to have one ready. A patient was dosed with Moderna’s vaccine in an early-stage trial earlier this month, making it the front-runner in the race to develop a viable vaccine. According to the World Health Organization, another candidate from China-based CanSino Biological is also in a phase 1 trial. 

And Johnson & Johnson said that human testing of its experimental vaccine will begin by September and, if effective, could be available for emergency use authorization in early 2021, CNBC reported.

Will I Get a Coronavirus Stimulus Check From the Government?

The U.S. passed a $2.2 trillion rescue package last week, tossing a life preserver to a national economy and health care system left flailing by the pandemic.

The stimulus payments will be determined by a person's 2019 federal income tax filing. If you have not yet filed your 2019 taxes, your 2018 return will be used.

The payments will be made by either direct deposit or check. Direct deposits could come within two weeks and checks in four weeks after the bill is signed into law. Use this calculator to estimate how much you're entitled to under the new legislation.

Everyone is wondering how much they will get from the federal government when the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill is complete. Here's a basic guideline of what you can expect using items we found while stuck home with our kids.
President Donald Trump signed the $2.2T CARES Act into law on Friday. The bill, which was passed by the House earlier in the day, aims to help all Americans as they battle the coronavirus

Who's Hiring Remote Workers Right Now?

Millions of Americans already have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis and the worst of the damage is yet to come, according to a Federal Reserve estimate.

Looking for a work-from-home job? For many who are out of a job, or whose household has lost income due to coronavirus restrictions, remote work is a tempting solution, not only during social distancing but as a full-time long-term job. Here's who is hiring people right now.

How Is the Coronavirus Spread?

The virus that causes COVID-19 has been spreading easily and sustainably in the community in affected areas, according to the CDC.

Coronavirus Spreading:

  • Person to Person: People who are in close contact (within 6 feet) of each other. When the infected person coughs or sneezes, they release respiratory droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of the people nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
  • Asymptomatic: Thus far people are thought to be contagious when they are the sickest (most symptomatic), but it is possible to spread the virus even in the absence of any symptoms.
  • Infected Surfaces and Objects: A person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose and eyes, though this is not the main way the virus is spread, according to the CDC. Learn more about how long the virus lasts on different surfaces here.
  • Community Spread: People have been infected with the virus in the area, including people who are not sure how or where they became infected.

Can People Get COVID-19 From Contaminated Food?

Not Likely: Respiratory viruses like the new coronavirus generally attach to cells in places like the lungs, while germs like norovirus and salmonella can survive in stomach acid then multiply after attaching to cells inside people’s guts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other experts note that the COVID-19 coronavirus is new and still being studied, but there’s no evidence yet that COVID-19 sickens people through their digestive systems.

Can the virus spread via food packaging? While there is no confirmed case of the virus spreading from a package, a New England Journal of Medicine study found that the virus was detectable for up to 24 hours on cardboard compared to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel.

Therefore, infectious disease experts recommend leaving packages outside a day, if possible, TODAY reported.

Think You Have the Coronavirus?

Stay at Home Unless Medical Care Is Needed: Those with a mild form of the virus are able to isolate at home during the illness. They should restrict all outdoor activities except for medical care. This includes avoiding public areas or going to work or school. Refrain from using public transportation, ride-sharing services or taxis, the CDC says.

Call Ahead Before Visiting a Doctor: If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. This will help the health care provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the president's coronavirus task force, said testing for the virus would be covered by private and government health insurance. Government health care plans like Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act plans cover the tests, as well as major insurers. While testing will be covered by new legislation, other aspects of treatment will come with a price tag, Consumer Reports says. Read more here.

How to Prevent Spreading the Coronavirus If You're Infected

Wash Your Hands: One of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus is by washing your hands with soap and water. The CDC recommends first washing with warm or cold water and then lathering soap for 20 seconds to get it on the backs of hands, between fingers and under finger nails before rinsing off. If soap and water are not available, clean hands with an alcohol-based (at least 60% alcohol) hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

With flu season well upon us, and concerns over the coronavirus growing, NBC 5’s Lauren Petty visited Northwestern Hospital and talked to Dr. Igor Koralnik. Koralnik shows us the right way to get your hands clean in 60 seconds.

You should wash your phone, too. Here’s how:

Properly sanitizing your phone can help protect against illness, including coronavirus.

Cover Your Coughs and Sneezes: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trash can. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water.

How to Self-Quarantine:

  • Stay away from other people in the home as much as possible. Stay in a specific room and, if available, a separate bathroom. Avoid sharing drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other people in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Restrict contact with all other pets and animals while you have the virus. There have not been confirmed reports of pets or animals becoming sick with the coronavirus, but it is still recommended that people with COVID-19 limit contact with other animals until more information is known of the virus. If caring for a pet while you have the virus, wash your hands before and after all interactions and wear a face mask.

When and How to Wear Gloves: Gloves are not a substitute for hand hygiene. If gloves are required to complete a task, wash hands before and after donning gloves. And don't just toss the gloves once you're done; follow the CDC’s guidelines on proper glove disposal.

Clean all surfaces every day: Surfaces like counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathrooms fixture, toilets, phone keyboards, tablets and bedside tables should be cleaned daily and thoroughly with a household cleaning spray or wipe. Clean any surfaces with bodily fluids like blood or stool.

Monitor symptoms: Seek medical care if the illness is worsening. People who are actively monitored or are self-monitoring should follow instructions provided by health professionals.

Is COVID-19 Deadlier for Men Than Women?

According to initial studies out of China and Italy, fatality rates were higher for infected men than infected women. Experts have suggested a number of factors that may help explain the disparity, including immune system differences between men and women, the protective effect of estrogen, lifestyle habits and the tendency for men to have more risk factors. Learn more here.

TRAVEL AND TRANSPORTATION: How to Get Around, or Not, Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak

Roughly 94 million Americans have cancelled or plan on canceling travel plans due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent survey by personal finance site WalletHub.

Given the circumstances, many airlines are relaxing cancellation policies and major hotel chains are waiving fees.

And U.S. airlines in turn are seeking government assistance of more than $50 billion, including a mix of direct aid and loan guarantees, as the industry reels from the coronavirus outbreak.

For the most up-to-date air travel information and guidelines, see our running list of airlines that have put various flight cancellations and fee-waiving policies into effect since the disease outbreak on Jan. 20, when the first confirmed cases occurred outside of mainland China.

Travel industry experts gave CNBC their advice on how to successfully navigate unbooking a trip — or even snag a deal for future travel. See all of their tips here.

CANCEL CULTURE: Major Event Cancellations and Closures

Here's a running list of high-profile concerts, sports, and tourist attractions that have been closed, canceled or rescheduled to minimize the virus' spread: Festivals, Concerts and Other Events Canceled or Postponed Due to Coronavirus Fears. Major businesses and corporations have also shuttered because of the virus.

With restaurants and stores shuttering across the United States, some companies have decided to offer discounts and deals to alleviate the closures’ financial, emotional and technological costs on consumers, institutions and other businesses. Here is a list of deals, discounts and freebies companies are offering amid the pandemic.

Social Distancing

An increasing number of U.S. states have ordered "non-essential businesses" to close or restrict their services in order to limit the coronavirus' spread by enforcing social distancing.

“Any time you increase your exposure to public areas, you increase your risks,” Charles P. Gerba, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Arizona, told TODAY Food.

Social distancing will save lives, but it can also start to feel pretty isolating. Here are five ways to stay social while social distancing:

Social distancing will save lives, but it can also start to feel pretty isolating. Author and social connection expert Susan McPherson gives her top five tips for staying connected to your community from home.

For the latest information, check out the CDC's website, as well as the World Health Organization's site. State and city governments are also sharing phone numbers for local hotlines and other resources. Follow all our coronavirus coverage here.

Danielle Abreu, Sevanny Campos and other staff contributed to this report.

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