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Your Questions About Coronavirus, Answered

This photograph depicted an Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch (EDLB) public health scientist, holding up a glass slide used for a run on a sequencing machine.

As coronavirus spread around the world and the number of cases in New Orleans, Louisiana and the United States rises, there are a lot of pressing questions on our minds.

The situation is rapidly evolving, but for now, the guidance from health officials remains fairly steady, if sometimes vague. Even the experts still don't have all the answers.

We'll update this FAQ as we learn more. If you have a question you'd like answered, send it to

How scared should I be?

We don’t want to scare you. But the virus will continue to spread. For the majority of people the virus will not be serious. Slowing the spread will benefit everyone. The slower it spreads, the less likely our hospitals are to be overwhelmed by patients, resulting, ultimately, in fewer fatalities. We can all make decisions to slow the spread, namely, by social distancing.

How dangerous is it?

This is still being studied. While health care professionals estimate the mortality rate to be between 1-3 percent, it is likely much lower than that. That’s because most of the cases being tracked are those that are hospitalized. Most people - 80 percent of cases - have super mild symptoms and will not end up hospitalized. Only about 20 percent of cases progress to needing hospitalization, and current fatality numbers are based on that small sample. So officials have a very inaccurate count of the infection rate.

What should I do?

Public health officials agree that the most effective way to protect yourself and others from the virus is “social isolation,” that is, keeping a distance from others. They recommend at least six feet. Stay home from work if you have that option. Keep your kids home from school. Avoid social events and unnecessary trips to public spaces.

How likely am I to get the virus?

It depends on where you live. In most areas of the U.S. with relatively low populations, the immediate risk is low. Healthcare workers and people in places where ongoing community spread of the virus has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure, that includes New Orleans. Some healthcare professionals posit that eventually, most of us will contract the virus, but it is really most dangerous for the elderly and those whose health is already compromised.

I’m sick, what should I do?

Self-quarantine. Stay home except to get medical care. Avoid other people and public transportation. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. If you live with others, isolate yourself in a specific room. Don’t share towels or other household items. Have someone else care for your pets, as the CDC does not yet know whether the virus is transmittable to animals. Wear a face mask, cover your coughs and sneezes and properly dispose of tissues. Monitor your symptoms, especially your temperature, and call your doctor. Describe your symptoms and see if they recommend or can administer a COVID 19 test.

Is there a difference between coronavirus and COVID-19?

Sort of. COVID-19 is the disease caused by this particular strain of coronavirus. COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

CNN has a helpful glossary of terms related to this outbreak.

How do I know if I have COVID 19?

The symptoms are like the common flu - fever, cough and shortness of breath, which may occur between 2-14 days after exposure. These are also likely symptoms for the common flu, and it is currently flu season. So it is very hard to self-diagnosis. As a precaution, self-quarantine and call your doctor.

What do I do if I think I have it?

Call your doctor and describe your symptoms, then decide whether to get tested with your doctor's help.

Should I get tested?

If you are having symptoms, call your physician for a phone screening first. You risk spreading the virus, or contracting it if you do not already have it, by visiting a hospital or ER. Getting tested will help you take necessary precautions if your symptoms escalate (lung inflammation, for example) and to prepare to cut down on risk of transmitting to others. However, very few tests are currently available. The state is working to increase their supply. But don’t freak out. For now, self-quarantine, and don’t go to the hospital unless your symptoms escalate. That could include a prolonged fever, difficulty breathing, digestive issues or other symptoms.

How do I get tested?

The state is working to acquire more test kits and will update the public on the status of their supply Friday afternoon. The Department of Health recommends COVID-19 testing for any patient with fever, respiratory symptoms and a negative influenza test, and says anyone suspected (and undergoing testing) for COVID-19 should isolate at home until they receive test results. If test results are positive, patients should be isolated at home until cleared by a physician or public health official.You can request testing, but it’s currently not very easy to get. Ochsner Health is offering modified services exclusively for those with flu symptoms at the following locations in Louisiana: Ochsner Urgent Care - Mid-City, Ochsner Urgent Care - Houma, Ochsner Urgent Care - Mandeville. If you are experiencing mild or severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing, consider visiting one of these locations. These facilities are offering care exclusively for flu patients, so as not to facilitate the spread to others, so don’t go unless you’re experiencing symptoms.

What does "presumptively diagnosed" mean?

In Louisiana, “presumptively diagnosed” means the patient tested positive for the virus on a test administered by the state department of health. The test is then sent off to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is the only entity officially able to certify positive cases of COVID-19. That can take a couple of days.

How does the virus spread?

The virus is spread when someone coughs or sneezes and droplets are carried through the air, which people nearby inhale into their mouths or nose, or through contact with their eyes. The viral particles travel to nasal passages and mucous membranes and attach to the body’s cells.

How does it kill people?

The viral cells multiply and hijack the body. When the virus reaches the lungs, they become inflamed and they have to work harder to get oxygen to the body. The swelling and the impaired flow of oxygen can cause those areas in the lungs to fill with fluid, pus and dead cells. Pneumonia, an infection in the lung, can occur, according to reporting by the New York Time. The lungs can eventually fill with so much fluid that the patient suffocates and dies. In some cases, patients also have symptoms like diarrhea or indigestion. The virus can also get into the bloodstream.

Will a mask protect me?

Regular facemasks only provide a barrier protection against droplets, including large respiratory particles. Most facemasks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask. If you already have the virus, wearing a facemask is a good way to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when the person coughs or sneezes, and the CDC recommends that patients who are confirmed to have the virus wear one to prevent spread until they are isolated at home, but they won’t protect you from contracting it.

How can I keep my children safe?

The virus can make anyone sick, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. While individuals who are elderly, have pre-existing conditions and are immunocompromised are the most at risk, children can still catch COVID-19. Take all the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family by following the CDC’s recommendation for prevention. Practice good hygiene and hand-washing, and get them the flu shot. You may want to practice social-distancing, which could mean keeping them home from school and skipping public playgrounds in favor of playing at home. However, coronavirus cases in children have been very rare.

Should I stock up on supplies?

Experts suggest stocking up on a month’s worth of supplies including prescriptions and household items like food, cleaning supplies and diapers. Disinfect regularly. Alcohol is a cheap disinfectant. The CDC also recommends cleaning “high touch” surfaces, like phones and tablets.

Should I self-quarantine?

If you have contracted the virus or think you have contracted the virus, a 14-day quarantine is recommended. If there’s only a slight chance you have been exposed, practice social distancing and monitor yourself for flu symptoms over the next 14 days.

Is there a vaccine or any other treatment?

No. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it.

Should I cancel travel plans?

This one is really up to you. Flying will increase your chances of contracting and spreading the virus. Traveling to outbreak areas is especially risky. Some travel is banned. Airlines and airports are taking extra precautions by cleaning and sterilizing surfaces regularly, and eliminating opportunities for passengers to touch shared items, such as check-in kiosks. The US State Department recommends travelers defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.

Correction: Ochsner LSU Health Urgent Care - Bossier is not a COVID-19 test site.

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Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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