Up-to-date information & ResourcesCoronavirus

We are here to help you stay physically and mentally healthy during this pandemic.

Start with our Coronavirus Lifeology Course

2019 Novel CoronavirusIn this course, you will learn about this virus and the sickness scientists call COVID-19. What is it, where did it come from, what might it mean for you?

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For recommendations on how to protect yourself or how to help essential workers in your community, visit the CDC website and your local government and health department websites.

Check out our coronavirus course for kids

Children's course on the 2019 Novel CoronavirusIt is hard for kids to understand what the coronavirus is in a way that is both fact-based and friendly.

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Glossary of terms to help you understand COVID-19

A coronavirus is a virus, which works somewhat like a parasite in that it needs to enter a living cell to make copies of itself. Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Sources: WHO.

COVID-19 refers to the coronavirus disease caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 first seen by scientists in 2019. Until 2019, this virus had not been previously identified in humans. Sources: WHO.

Social distancing involves limiting the spread of the virus by keeping distance (6 to 10 feet or 2 to 3 meters) between yourself and others and limiting your exposure to public spaces, crowds and social gatherings where community spread of the virus could occur. Check with your local government or health department to see what social distancing measures are recommended in your area.

Governments use quarantines to stop the spread of contagious diseases. Quarantines are being used for people or groups who don’t have symptoms but were exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID-19.

This is a self-imposed quarantine. People who have been exposed to the new coronavirus might practice self-quarantine for the recommended 14 days. During this time, they stay at home, don’t have visitors, stay at least 6 feet away from people they are living with, wash their hands frequently, sanitize common spaces like bathrooms, don’t share towels or utensils with others in the home, etc. Sources: Hopkins Medicine.

Isolation is for people who are confirmed to have COVID-19. It separates them from those who are healthy. People who self-isolate when sick with the coronavirus should avoid any contact with others.

A vaccine stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease. A vaccine may look like an injection of a nasal spray of “dead” or inactivated virus particles or pieces of a virus. These help your body better recognize and fight the real, live virus without making you sick in the process.

A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.

Viral transmission “is the process by which viruses spread between hosts” or people. Learn more about the transmission of the novel coronavirus, or how it spreads, here.

This is “a condition in which not enough oxygen passes from your lungs into your blood. Your body’s organs, such as your heart and brain, need oxygen-rich blood to work well,” (NIH).

The incubation period of the novel coronavirus is the time between exposure to the virus and when a person first starts showing symptoms. Different people and groups of people can display different incubation periods, but the incubation period for the novel coronavirus is up to 14 days.

Answers provided by Hajer Nakua and Dr. Paige Jarreau, based on CDC and WHO resources

Q: How do viruses work?

Viruses are microorganisms (much smaller than bacteria) that contain genetic material like DNA or RNA surrounded or encapsulated by a shell of proteins. Viruses don’t have the structure to copy themselves on their own so they need a host to survive. Similar to parasites, it is inside the host that they divide and copy themselves. 

The genetic material (DNA or RNA) of viruses is covered by a ‘capsid’ which protects it from being destroyed by worker proteins (called enzymes) in the host organism. This allows the viruses to continue to copy themselves – which they need their genetic material to do. 

The genetic makeup of viruses can change over time, which is why there are multiple types of viruses within a virus “family”, like the coronaviruses. Similar to all other organisms, the genetic makeup of viruses undergoes evolution and so it changes over time. 

Because of how quickly viruses can copy themselves inside of living cells, their genetic material can change very rapidly. These changes (called mutations) can be good or bad for humans. Some mutations can make these viruses less contagious and others can make them more contagious.


Q: What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that have a crown-like appearance. In humans, these viruses often result in mild-moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses. Although these illnesses share many similarities to cold and flu symptoms, the death rate as a result of these viruses is typically much higher. 


Q: How did COVID-19 start?

There are no confirmed reports but it’s likely that this virus originated in animals, similarly to other coronaviruses. Due to the proximity of animals and humans in many places throughout the world, animal viruses can be transferred to humans. COVID-19 likely started this way. 

Previous coronaviruses have been found to originate in bats and through a series of species transmissions, found their way to humans, and more evidence points to this trajectory for COVID-19. 


Q: How is COVID-19 transmitted between people?

Based on case-reports and what we know about the nature of coronaviruses as a group, it seems that COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets containing the virus, either directly or indirectly. Direct transmission can happen between 1-2 meters or 6 feet from an infected individual. When they cough or sneeze, they may generate droplets which may end up in your eyes, mouth or nose. Since these droplets can fall quickly out of the air but can survive for many hours or perhaps days on hard surfaces and objects. If someone who is not sick touches an un-cleaned surface where these droplets landed and then rubs their eye, they may be infected. This is why hand hygiene is very important!


Q: How long should I self-quarantine if I am worried that I might have come into contact with the virus from a sick person, while traveling, etc.?

The recommendation is 14 days, because that is on the long side of the potential incubation period for this virus. The incubation period is the period during which the virus is in your body but you aren’t yet showing symptoms. If you haven’t had any symptoms after 14 days, you aren’t likely to be sick or to able to pass the virus onto others, according to what we currently know. Learn more here.


Q: How will I know if I’m infected?

Common signs of coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, body aches, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Some people and children may also experience headache, sore throat, vomiting diarrhea. 

Most people can treat mild COVID-19 illness, the illness caused by the coronavirus, with rest, fluid intake, and cough medicine or cough syrup (to help relieve coughing symptoms, which can be frequent and disturb sleep for example) or other medications recommended by a physician. (Source: Mayo Clinic.)

In more severe cases, coronavirus infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 

If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. Emergency warning signs include but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

Sources: WHO and CDC


Q: Why is everyone worried about this virus?

This virus seems to be very contagious and one person with this virus typically infects several others.

This virus may weaken respiratory function so people who are older, have asthma, a compromised immune system, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and/or diabetes are at an increased risk of severe consequences if they are infected from this virus. Due to how quickly this virus spreads, it’s really important to minimize transmission for all areas.


Q: “But I’m young and healthy, why should I care?”

We think that in such a situation, it’s important to think about everyone in society, especially the most vulnerable – such as elders, those below the poverty line, those in homeless shelters, or who have other illnesses. It’s good news that most people survive and experience mild symptoms, but healthy young people can be carriers and transmit the virus to others. And that can send a ripple effect of further transmission.


Q: Why is social distancing effective?

Social distance is an important and cautious measure in attempts to limit the spread of a virus. Since we’re noticing rapid spread of this virus, limiting the chances that people will come into contact with virus-containing droplets is important. Some people may feel a little sick but still go to social gatherings or friends’ houses, and this can quickly spread the virus. If these “transmission risks” are minimized, then fewer people will become carriers of the virus. 

Because a vaccine is not yet available for this particular coronavirus and we have limited understanding of it, social measures like social distancing are important. The more cautious we are now, the better we can prevent infections from overwhelming our healthcare systems and decreasing the quality of care for people who are sick. 

It’s also important to make sure that anyone who is feeling unwell isolates themselves from family members to reduce close contact transmission.


Q: What does it mean to Flatten the Curve?

All healthcare systems have a maximum capacity of patients they can care for due to limited hospital resources. If too many people have COVID19, this will lead to an inevitable increase in the number of emergency cases from people who are at-risk of severe illness. This will mean more people at the hospital, and eventually hospitals will no longer have the capacity to treat new patients. The idea behind flatten the curve is to spread out the number of cases over a longer period of time, as opposed to all at once.


Q: Does this mean I have to stay at home all the time?

It is recommended that people in areas where the virus is actively spreading should not be holding or taking part in large gatherings or going to public places such as malls and restaurants. At the moment, public healthcare systems are advising for increased caution and recommending limited contact between people outside their home. Going for walks/runs is currently okay in many places, but try to keep a distance of 1-2 meters away from others. 

If you are sick in any way, it is important that you stay home while testing for COVID-19 remains limited in many parts of the world.


Q: Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to minimize my risk of getting sick?

It’s always a good idea to do things that improve the function of your immune system, which fights off bacteria and viruses that can cause illness. Having a strong immune system could also lower your risk of severe COVID-19 illness. Try to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and stay active. However, you will need to take other measures than diet and lifestyle changes to protect yourself and others from this virus. For example, washing your hands before you eat or touch your face for any reason, and staying distant from people who are sick, coughing or sneezing, are some of the best things you can do to prevent infection. 


Q: Do masks help?

Masks are more useful to those who are sick or caring for those who are sick. Masks (or even a scarf or other item of clothing covering the mouth and nose) can limit how far virus-containing respiratory droplets travel after a sick person coughs or sneezes. Masks could also help prevent large droplets from landing in the mouth or nose of a mask-wearing person in close proximity to a sick person who is not wearing a mask.

That being said, individual virus particles CAN easily pass through a mask. There is limited evidence of masks being useful for most people in terms of preventing virus exposure and infection. 

This is partly because people also often use masks incorrectly. They might touch the mask and adjust it on their face without washing their hands, bringing more – not fewer – virus particles close to their face and mucous membranes in their eyes, mouch and nose. Infection can occur this way. 

More useful than wearing a mask is keeping your hands in front of you at all times while in public spaces and washing them frequently, especially before eating or touching your face.


Q: Should I bulk-buy food/items?

There’s a difference between strategic bulk-buying and panic buying. Strategic bulk-buying may mean that you purchase a little more of your normal grocery items than usual to minimize the amount of times you need to visit the grocery store during this pandemic. But this buying should not deplete items. Panic buying is driven by fear and makes people want to buy many more items than necessary to make sure they have enough for an unnecessary long time. This approach depletes resources for other people, including those that are at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness (such as elders), and then further drives more panic buying. Let’s try to think about others! 


Q: How can I protect my child from COVID-19 infection?

CDC Answer:

Based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. Children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms. But to protect your child, you can encourage your child to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by teaching them to do the same things everyone should do to stay healthy.

  • Clean hands often using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoid people who are sick (coughing and sneezing)
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas (e.g. tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks)
  • Launder items including washable plush toys as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.

You can find additional information on preventing COVID-19 at Prevention for 2019 Novel Coronavirus and at Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities. Additional information on how COVID-19 is spread is available at How COVID-19 Spreads.

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