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Coronavirus and COVID-19: what you need to know

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on October 22, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread around the world, contributing to a rapidly-increasing number of COVID-19 cases. While it can be easy to fall into the overwhelming anxiety and fear of the moment, one of the best ways to stay grounded is to stay informed about the virus, the symptoms, and what you can do in your day-to-day to not only help keep yourself safe, but also to protect those around you. With this in mind, here we’ll highlight what you need to know about coronavirus and this pandemic—so keep reading.

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Understanding the terms: novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19

While many people simply refer to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) as “the coronavirus,” coronaviruses describe a broad category of respiratory viruses. Named for the crown-like protrusions on their surfaces, there are different strains of coronavirus, including SARS-CoV (the virus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS-CoV (the virus responsible for Middle East respiratory syndrome), and SARS-CoV-2—the new coronavirus that’s causing the current pandemic. Less severe coronaviruses are also known for causing the common cold.

The novel coronavirus is considered “novel” simply because it has not previously been discovered in humans, which also unfortunately means that no one is immune to it, making this respiratory illness highly transmissible and dangerous.

The infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 has gained the designation of “COVID-19.” This is simply an abbreviation of “__co__rona__vi__rus __d__isease 2019” (2019 was the year the virus was first identified).

Symptoms of COVID-19

Growing research and anecdotal evidence suggest that we may not know all of the symptoms of COVID-19 yet. However, common coronavirus symptoms among milder cases include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Short breath or general difficulty breathing
  • Muscle aches
  • Sudden loss of taste and/or smell

Note that all the possible symptoms are still not known, and some people with COVID-19 have experienced conjunctivitis (pinkeye), rashes, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. If you do find that you are experiencing some of the symptoms above, distance yourself from others immediately and consider taking a COVID-19 test (learn more about at-home options like the Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC*).

Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that some people infected with the virus show no outward symptoms at all, meaning you could be asymptomatic but still carry and transmit the virus to others. This can lead to a false sense of security, with asymptomatic people potentially going out and interacting with people without taking the proper precautions.

The importance of social distancing

Since most people have yet to receive a vaccine for the virus, social distancing remains one of the best ways to curb the number of COVID-19 cases. Social, or physical, distancing simply refers to maintaining a relatively safe distance (6 or more feet) between yourself and others.

The coronavirus spreads mainly among people who are in close contact, particularly for a prolonged period of time. The primary way that the novel coronavirus spreads is through respiratory droplets when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes, talks—or even just breathes. These droplets of an infected person can land on your nose or mouth or otherwise get inhaled into your lungs, hence the reason why various types of masks and facial coverings are required in many public places today.

In practice, social distancing involves keeping at least 6 feet away from other people who do not also live with you. Here are some other guidelines and tips for social distancing:

  • Limit the amount of time you spend in stores or public spaces. Only go inside stores when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, try to make use of curbside pickup, drive-through, and delivery services to limit contact.
  • Plan ahead to avoid any crowded places or gatherings where you may not be able to maintain that six-foot personal bubble.
  • While being outdoors isn’t unsafe in itself, use your best judgment and common sense. If you are at the park and able to easily maintain distance from others, you are golden—but a cramped, crowded porch is not the best idea.

Also, it’s helpful to keep in mind that social distancing is as much for the people around you as it is for your own personal health. By simply staying home unless it’s essential to go out, you can help reduce the spread of this coronavirus disease and potentially lessen the strain on healthcare workers. (Related: Tips for social distancing in the workplace).

Wearing a mask

Like social distancing, wearing a mask or other face covering is another key step you can take to help curb the spread of the virus. Whether you wear a surgical mask or simply place a bandana around your mouth and nose, a face mask acts as a physical barrier that keeps out respiratory droplets and can minimize the amount of respiratory droplets you transmit into the air around you.

Wear a mask whenever you go out in public, and keep it on until you get back home. Make sure that it is securely fastened to your face and fully covering both your nose and your mouth. Handle your mask only by the ear loops. Otherwise, don’t touch your mask. If you do, wash or disinfect your hands as soon as possible.

While masks with valves have become popular, they are considerably less safe than others. The one-way valve does keep you from breathing in particles, but your own respiratory droplets still make it out of the mask and into the atmosphere. This means someone who’s asymptomatic and doesn't suspect they have the virus can still transmit this respiratory illness to others.

Getting tested for COVID-19

If you’re interested in testing for COVID-19, it can help to understand the various COVID-19 testing options available:

  • RT-PCR tests are considered the “gold standard” for diagnostic testing, and they check for an active infection.
  • Antibody tests are non-diagnostic. They check for antibodies in serum or plasma components in a blood sample to determine a potential past infection.
  • Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive compared to the RT-PCR test and negative results may need to be confirmed by PCR testing if you have been experiencing symptoms or have had a known exposure. Learn more about the differences between a PCR test and rapid COVID-19 test.

There are numerous testing sites that allow you to check for COVID-19 if you’ve been exposed to an infected person or are beginning to experience coronavirus symptoms. If you can’t easily find a site near you, or otherwise just want to stay in the safety of your own home, Everlywell offers the FDA-authorized COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC.* This RT-PCR coronavirus test is easy to use and provides secure digital results within 24-48 hours of the lab receiving your sample.

This home collection kit has not been FDA cleared or approved. This home collection kit has been authorized by the FDA under an EUA. Read more at https://www.everlywell.com/products/covid-19-test/.


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2. About COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

3. Vaccine Testing and the Approval Process. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

4. Social Distancing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

5. N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, and Face Masks. US Food & Drugs Administration. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

6. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

7. How to Protect Yourself and Others. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

8. Use of Masks to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

9. COVID-19 Vaccines. US Food & Drugs Administration. URL. Accessed September 22, 2020.

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