Update on COVID-19 — the Novel Coronavirus

Betty Chaffee/ March 4, 2020/ immunization, Self management, vaccines/ 6 comments


News is changing quickly when it comes to the novel coronavirus that was identified late last year. As a matter of fact, just three days after our first article on this subject was published, a public health emergency was declared in the United States to help deal with COVID-19. At that time, there had been 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, and a total of about 10,000 confirmed cases in China with just over 200 deaths. As of yesterday, there have been nearly 91,000 cases globally, with about 3,100 resulting in death. Here in the US, there were 80 cases confirmed as of yesterday, with 9 deaths. The map below shows the countries that have been affected as of March 4, 2020. A big change from six weeks ago.

Global map from cdc.gov/coronavirus

There's a fair amount of concern and anxiety over this new virus and the disease it causes. And there are good reasons for that. We've seen cruise ships quarantined, businesses closed down, people forced to stay indoors for days on end. Most of this has been overseas, yes, but some of it has happened here in the US. So a lot of people are nervous. You can't even get face masks any more, and some stores are out of hand sanitizer and even toilet paper! Let's talk first about what kind of infection this is, then look at what the experts are recommending for us.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the name given to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that was identified late last year. The virus itself has been given the name SARS-CoV-2. So you might see either of those names when reading articles. You may also see 2019 n-COV. There may be other terms that are used as well, so don't be surprised. Here we'll use COVID-19 to refer to the disease, and SARS-CoV-2 to refer to the virus.

Where did SARS-CoV-2 come from, and how is it spread?

This new coronavirus is believed to have come from bats, and transmitted from bats to humans in a market in China. From there it began to spread between humans, and that's what is continuing to happen worldwide. The virus is thought to spread in the same way that colds and flu spread. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, droplets remain in the air and can infect people nearby. Those droplets can also land on things people touch, like doorknobs and computer keyboards. The next person(s) to touch that surface can then become infected with the virus when they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.

It's not clear yet whether this virus will become less active as the weather warms, like cold and flu viruses. So experts are giving advice on what to do if it continues to spread and starts affecting more communities in the US and worldwide.

My colleague Dr. Alan Tanabe described the symptoms to watch for in our previous article, and also listed the best methods of prevention of infection. (Experts are NOT recommending routine use of facemasks for prevention of infection, which is good since they're in very short supply.) Here are some updated recommendations from the experts.

Prepare your household in case someone becomes ill. Think about those with whom you live. Is anyone unable to care for him/herself? Does a family member have chronic health problems that would make them more likely to become severely ill? How might you limit contact with someone in your household that becomes ill? By answering these questions and others, each household can come up with a plan to put into action if needed.

Then there are recommendations for what to do if you do become ill. These include limiting contact with others in your household, cleaning surfaces regularly, and calling ahead before visiting your doctor, among other things.

What if you had plans to travel? Expert, up-to-date information about travel concerns regarding COVID-19 can be found here. Advice to these and other coronavirus-related questions can be found at the CDC's Coronavirus-19 information page.

An important thought I'd like to leave you with:

JAMA published online Feb.26, 2020 doi:10.1001/jama.2020.2633

The flu -- the seasonal flu -- is still circulating in the US. At this point, the flu virus is causing many more infections (29 million), and many more deaths (16,000), than SARS-CoV-2. The symptoms are similar, and there's a substantial risk of severe illness with both infections. Thus far (and this could change) flu is way more likely to cause severe illness in babies and young children than COVID-19. So if you, or anyone you love, hasn't had a flu shot yet this season, please do it right away. You're more likely to get the flu at this point than COVID-19, and vaccination is the best way to prevent it.

As always we welcome your comments and questions directly below this article, or contact us at BetterMyMeds directly!




Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
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  1. As a person with lung issues and asthma, I am wondering if I am at more of a risk for COVID19 ? I already have breathing problems, I don’t need more trouble. I am trying to be careful and follow recommendations given so far. Are there any other things I should be aware of? I also am on numerous medications for other medical problems.

    I am in the process of ordering refills for my medications so that I will have 2 wks. worth on hand., and I plan to keep a supply for the weeks ahead.

    1. Good question, Jeanne.
      A couple of things. Your risk of exposure to the virus isn’t any higher, so currently there’s no need to make big changes in your daily activities.
      But, same as with the flu, if you come down wth COVID-19 you’ll be at higher risk of serious disease. So if you know you’re exposed, or if you come down with symptoms that could be a cold, flu, or COVID-19, you’ll need to pay special attention to your symptoms and call your doctor if you get worried about your breathing or have other problems.
      So at this point, the ways you protect yourself from getting the flu are the same ways you can protect yourself from COVID-19. Keep up-to-date on spread of the virus, though, and changes in the expert recommendations by checking back to the websites shared in the article.

  2. The biggest take from this article is putting Covid-19 side-by-side with the flu. Covid-19 certainly doesn’t deserve the notoriety its getting from the media. My concern is the effectiveness of the N-95 masks. They’re not airtight so are they really accomplishing anything? I would have to imagine that there are people out there that are still getting the virus despite wearing a mask.

    1. That’s an excellent point, Tony.

      There are no recommendations at this time for the public to routinely use face masks to prevent infection.
      But it’s fair to say that N-95 respirators are more effective than the usual type of face mask you can pick up at the local pharmacy. Because they filter out 95% of tiny airborne particles, they are recommended for healthcare professionals caring for those who are suspected of having COVID-19.
      The recommendations for prevention of COVID-19 are very simply, frequent handwashing, limiting contact with those who are ill, and staying home if you are ill.

  3. Great article and information, Betty.

    I completely agree with your points. I don’t want to make light of this COVID-19 as it is a novel virus, but if people were half this diligent with the flu, it would be feasible that thousands of lives could be saved.
    Personally, I don’t intend to make significant changes in my routine due to concerns of COVID-19. However, I will continue to follow the story, as it’s entirely possible that disruption to some drugs could occur. I would advise health professionals to be prepared and proactive to take steps to minimize any disruption to patient therapies.

    1. Thanks for your comments Alan. It seems preparedness for what may happen if COVID-19 continues to spread is the best thing right now.

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