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Answering Questions From Sequoyah Students About COVID-19

Earlier this year, a new type of coronavirus (a type of virus that causes respiratory problems in humans) emerged in the province of Wuhan, China. Very quickly, the virus infected tens of thousands of people and after only a few weeks, cases started popping up in the U.S.. As of March 12th, 2020, over 1300 people have tested positive for COVID-19 (commonly known as coronavirus) in the U.S.. Because of this, many questions about COVID-19 have arisen among students.

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19 yet? How long will it take to make one? 

Since COVID-19 was discovered in the beginning of January of this year, there is not yet a vaccine. Sequoyah biology teacher Chelsea Confalone commented that the development of a vaccine “depends on the particular virus, with some viruses, if they mutate quickly, it’s hard to find a vaccine that’s going to be effective. The process of making a vaccine has to go through many stages before you can even test it in humans. For SARS [another coronavirus that had an outbreak in 2003], it took 20 months for a vaccine to be ready. There’s probably more groups working on this because [COVID-19] is more widespread, so it might be faster than that, but I wouldn’t expect it to be quicker than a year.”

Will I die if I get COVID-19? 

Most likely not. Currently, the mortality rate that we see being thrown around is 3%. Now this is partially correct, but lots of people are misinterpreting this. If we were to put 100 random, healthy, Sequoyah high school students in a room and exposed them to COVID-19, 3% of them would not die. Though about 3% of people have died, most of these deaths are from China. The majority of cases have been from older people, who have preexisting conditions (like heavy smoking). For highschoolers, the mortality rate is about 0.2%. Also keep in mind that that mortality rate includes people who do have preexisting health conditions, so if you are healthy, the mortality rate is even lower.

Why is the mortality rate so high in the U.S. but so low in countries like South Korea?

Currently the U.S. has the highest mortality rate (around 5%) whereas South Korea only has a mortality rate of 0.6%. The reason for this variation is because of how countries are conducting testing. In South Korea, nearly everyone is being screened which means even people who exhibit extremely mild symptoms are still accounted for. This is not the case in the U.S.. As of now, only people with extreme symptoms are being tested. Since this is the case we are not accounting for all the mild cases which would make the mortality rate closer to South Korea’s. 

Are men more likely to die from COVID-19? 

No. You may have seen articles like this CNBC article, saying that men had almost a double mortality rate compared to women once exposed to COVID-19. The problem with this was that the study they cited only analyzed cases in China. In China, 62% of men smoke whereas only 3% of women smoke. Scientists believe that this has skewed the study’s data because over half of men have had pre-existing conditions, thus increasing their mortality rate. 

How likely am I to get COVID-19?

At this point we do not know. It completely depends on how the U.S. handles the virus as well as how you protect yourself. On March 2nd, Vice President Mike Pence (who has been put in charge of the outbreak) lifted all restrictions on who could be tested. Since a lot more people are being tested, we will be able to better identify outbreak areas, which will help us indicate where we should be quarantining and taking other preventive measures. On March 6th, the CDC shipped 1.1 million tests for COVID-19 to hospitals and labs across the country which should help significantly. That being said, there is no cure or vaccine for the virus as of now, so there are no ways of fully being protected. Also, many scientists estimate that the number of cases in the U.S. greatly exceeds the 300 or so reported cases, so the virus could already be much more widespread than we predict. 

Harvard Epidemiology professor Marc Lipstich claims that he believes that in the next year, 40-70% of the world’s population will have the virus, but as he points out with his interview in The Atlantic, this does not mean that these people will have serious cases. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic”

How can I defend myself from COVID-19? Should I be wearing a mask?

There are a few crucial things that you can do to shield yourself from COVID-19.  According to the CDC, here are the most important things that you can do to avoid COVID-19: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

The CDC does not recommend you wear a face mask unless you are sick to prevent the spread of the disease. 

Should I be worried?

Sort of. Confalone doesn’t “think we need to be overly worried.” While Confalone said COVID-19 “is much less deadly than Measles, … it is contagious, and practicing hygiene like washing your hands is important.”