Updated April 17, 5:17 p.m.
With the continued spread of COVID-19 in California, there are a lot of questions about how the disease caused by the coronavirus works and what people should do. Here are some answers from experts and public health officials about what the public should know.
How worried do I need to be?
The United States nationally is in the acceleration phase of the pandemic, according to the CDC. The immediate risk of being exposed to this virus is still low for most Americans, but as the outbreak expands, that risk will increase. In the coming months, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus.
People in places where ongoing community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure, with the level of risk dependent on the location.
You can keep track of the number of reported cases and deaths over time in your county using this California Coronavirus Tracker. You can also examine the prevalence of certain risk factors for more serious COVID-19 cases in your county.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The symptoms of infection with the coronavirus are very similar to the symptoms of the flu. They include fever, a cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.
Symptoms may appear in as little as two days and as long as 14 days after exposure. The vast majority of people who are infected with the coronavirus will experience mild symptoms or may even be asymptomatic, UC Davis pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Dean Blumberg said.
How does it spread? What can I do to help limit the spread?
According to the CDC, the virus that causes the illness mainly spreads person to person, such as:
- When two people are in close contact with one another
- When one person inhales the respiratory droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
- When one person touches a surface where the virus lives and then touches their nose or mouth
Experts believe people are the most contagious at the peak of their symptoms, though some spread might be possible before symptoms arise.
To help limit spread, wash your hands frequently. Health officials also say to:
- Resist touching your own nose or mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you develop a fever, cough or other respiratory symptoms
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered all residents to stay home except for essential business, like getting food or picking up prescriptions. The state also advises “social distancing” — a practice of keeping six feet between you and other people to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases.
Take some precautionary measures like avoiding contact with sick individuals, washing your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, and getting a flu shot. Since COVID-19 symptoms are similar to the flu, it is another important reason to get a flu shot.
Who is most vulnerable to becoming severely ill if infected with the coronavirus?
Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are more at risk of coronavirus infection and of developing severe symptoms from an infection. Health care workers, close contacts of those infected and people who have traveled to infection hotspots are also at an elevated risk of exposure.
Kids, so far, seem less vulnerable to coronavirus infection and have even milder symptoms than most adults, according to NPR.
Can COVID-19 be spread through packages sent via mail from China?
There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through imported goods, and there have not been any cases of it associated with imported goods in the U.S.
The CDC says that there is likely a very low risk of spread through products and packaging shipped over days and weeks at ambient temperatures from China. Two past coronaviruses, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, had very poor survivability on surfaces (like packages and products).
What does community transmission mean?
Community transmission refers to situations where the source of infection is unknown, or cannot be pinpointed.
Community transmission of COVID-19 has been identified in California since late February, according to the California Department of Public Health, and since early March, most of the confirmed cases in the state were not related to travel outside of the United States.
What should I do if I think I’m experiencing symptoms of COVID-19? Should I go to the doctor, the hospital, or wait it out?
If you are sick, you should stay at home, except to get medical care.
Sacramento County Public Health Director Dr. Peter Beilenson recommended that people avoid hospitals, emergency rooms or doctors’ offices unless they really need to go, in order to lessen exposure to the virus and other illnesses like the cold and flu.
“If someone feels ill, the best thing to do is contact your physician, and he or she will take a travel history of you and a more broad symptomatic history of you,” Bielenson said. “I surmise that over time, the vast majority of people with this infection will be treated at home, just as with the flu.”
You should also separate yourself from other people in your home. This is known as home isolation. Avoid sharing personal items, clean surfaces often and monitor your symptoms. Find more advice from the CDC here.
Should I cancel my upcoming travel plans?
The CDC currently recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to China, Iran, most European countries, the United Kingdom and Ireland, including layovers in these locations.
It also recommends that older adults and those with chronic medical conditions consider postponing nonessential travel to most global destinations because COVID-19 can be more serious for those groups.
On March 9 it recommended all people, especially those with underlying health conditions, avoid traveling on cruise ships.
NPR is updating a map on CDC travel advisories here.
You can find more travel information from the CDC here. Above all, travel brings you into contact with lots of people, especially on cruises or airplanes, so frequent hand washing is recommended.
How many people in the United States and in California have tested positive for the virus?
The number of cases in the United States and California is changing rapidly. The CDC is updating U.S. cases here. You can keep track of the number of reported cases and deaths over time in your county using this California Coronavirus Tracker.
On March 4, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency.
On March 8, the state released guidelines for school districts and for organizers of public events.
On March 11 the state advised against gatherings of more than 250 people.
On March 15, the state recommended home isolation for seniors 65 and older and asked bars, nightclubs, breweries and wineries to close.
On March 19, Newsom ordered all California's nearly 40 million residents to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
On April 3, the CDC recommended that all Americans wear cloth or fabric face coverings while in public.
On April 14, Gov. Newsom introduced a six-point plan for how California might gradually lift its stay-home order.
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