What experts know (and still don’t know) about the spread, symptoms, immunity, contagiousness, and more
COVID-19 is a rapidly spreading disease, caused by a coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans in late 2019. Here are the most pressing and recent questions related to the fast-moving pandemic.
When will the coronavirus pandemic end?
There’s some speculation that the spread of the coronavirus will subside with summer’s warmer weather, as happens with the flu and the common cold. But since the virus is brand new, health officials don’t know yet if that will also be the case for COVID-19. Not all viruses behave the same, and in fact, people can catch the flu and the common cold in summer, though it’s less prevalent. “At this time, we do not know whether the spread of COVID-19 will decrease when the weather warms up,” according to Harvard Medical School’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Currently, virus rates are dropping in China, where the outbreak first started spreading.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The coronavirus is thought to spread from person to person through handshakes, kisses, friendly embraces, and airborne respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze — or even regular breathing, which is why the CDC and other health officials recommend staying at least six feet away from other people in public settings.
Disease-carrying droplets infect people primarily by entering the eye, nose, or mouth, hence the advice to avoid touching your face. The virus is also thought to persist on hard surfaces for a few hours or perhaps even a few days, making door handles, checkout counters, and shopping carts risky for transmission.
A new study, published March 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine, finds the coronavirus can remain viable and detectable for varying lengths of time on various surfaces:
- In aerosols (airborne droplets): up to 3 hours
- On copper: up to 4 hours
- On cardboard: up to 24 hours
- On plastic and stainless steel: up to two to three days