Medical staff in protective gear tend to patients in Wuhan, China.



Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.9, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.7, RI.6-8.10, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: People, Places, and Environments • Science, Technology, and Society • Global Connections


Questions and Answers About the Coronavirus

Here’s what you need to know about the illness and global pandemic.

The following story was updated on May 28, 2020.

Life in America—and around the world—has been seriously disrupted by the new coronavirus. As the illness continues to spread, nearly all schools across the country have been closed, along with many businesses. People have been told to stay home as much as possible. Chances are you’re now spending your days tackling online lessons, texting friends instead of hanging out with them, and getting a lot of family time.

As you adjust to life during this health crisis, it’s normal to feel anything from worried to bored—and to wonder when this new reality will end. You likely have other questions too. What exactly is this health threat? How can you stay healthy? And what might life be like in the coming weeks? JS editors are here to help with some answers.

What is this new coronavirus?

It’s a virus that causes a disease known as COVID-19. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared that the virus had become a pandemic. That is a disease outbreak that spreads rapidly and affects many people in different areas around the globe.

As of late-May, the virus had infected more than 5 million people worldwide. It has killed more than 350,000 people.

What’s happening in the United States?

As of late-May, more than 1.5 million cases had been reported in the U.S. More than 100,000 Americans have died.

Many states took extreme measures to stop the spread of the virus. Most schools in the nation have closed. Many businesses have also been shuttered, and large gatherings, like concerts and sports events, have been canceled.

Now, states are making plans about when and how to reopen businesses. Some states have already allowed some businesses to reopen if they follow certain safety procedures. Many health experts are concerned that if states open businesses too quickly the virus will continue to spread.

Because businesses in many places closed, many people, especially those who work in restaurants and retail stores, are out of work. State governments have been working to provide economic aid to residents struggling to pay bills. The U.S. government has provided trillions of dollar of aid to help people and businesses most affected by the pandemic and to spur the economy.

What can people do to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the virus?

Health experts say that social distancing is key to preventing the spread of the virus. Social distancing measures include staying home as much as possible, avoiding travel and gatherings with individuals from other households, and keeping at least 6 feet away from others in public. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that people wear cloth face masks in public.

Health experts also stress that people should wash their hands frequently in addition to taking other precautions to stay healthy and prevent the spread of the virus (see our tips on how to avoid getting sick, below).

Should I worry about the virus?

Experts stress that people should not panic. Still, they say Americans should carefully follow instructions from health authorities about how to help keep themselves and their communities safe.

While most people who do get sick have mild cases, the virus can cause serious illness: About one in every five people who catch it need hospital care. Moreover, there are large outbreaks across the U.S.—and the virus is still spreading. One key reason: Some people who contract the virus don’t have obvious symptoms, such as fever, tiredness, or a dry cough. That means they may not realize they’re sick, which makes it easy to unknowingly spread the illness to others. That’s why experts say it’s extremely important for everyone—including those who are young and seemingly healthy—to practice good hygiene and follow rules about social distancing.

Are there places that have had success battling the virus?

Nations that have taken aggressive actions to combat the virus, especially early on, have had success in controlling it. South Korea is one example. To contain the virus, South Korea made tests widely available, quickly isolated those who became infected, tracked down people who infected individuals may have come into contact with, and communicated clearly about what safety measures the public should be taking. Countries that have experienced delays in widespread testing and that initially downplayed the crisis, including Italy and the U.S., have struggled to contain the virus.

What will life be like for the next several weeks?

Hospitals in many states have dealt with thousands of coronavirus patients. They have asked the federal government to help make sure they have enough supplies to treat everyone who needs help. (Such supplies include things like face masks and ventilators, which help critically ill patients breathe.) 

Health experts say there needs to be widespread testing so that more people who are sick or may be sick can be isolated and the virus won’t continue to spread.

For now, experts say life may not get back to normal in many places for weeks—or even months. While it can be frustrating to be stuck at home, away from friends and family, experts are reminding people that this will end. Until then, they say, everyone should focus on following expert guidelines for staying safe—in order to protect ourselves and our communities.

Avoid Getting Sick!

Public health experts say the best way to protect yourself from the new type of coronavirus—and help keep it from spreading—is to follow these tips.

  • Practice social distancing. Stay home as much as possible, and avoid travel and gatherings with individuals from other households.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds each time. 
  • You can use hand sanitizer. Just check the label to make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Apply a generous amount and then rub it on your hands and fingers for about 20 seconds. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Wear a cloth face mask when out in public.
  • Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from people outside your household when out in public.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue—then toss the tissue in the trash. No tissue? Cough and sneeze into your elbow—and then wash your hands!
  • Stay home when you are sick.

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