Characteristics of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Different families of viruses have many common characteristics and COVID-19 is no different.  It is the newest member of the coronavirus family, but not all species of coronavirus are known to cause to severe illness.  In fact, according to The Minnesota Department of Health, the coronavirus family is responsible for one-third of common cold cases.  Coronaviruses also include the strains that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).1

The strain of Coronavirus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak led to a total of 8,098 cases and 774 deaths, or a 9.5% mortality rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).2  Compared to COVID-19, and according to Johns Hopkins CSSE, as of 3/3/2020 at 11:42AM, there have been a total of 92,312 confirmed cases and 3,131 deaths, or a 3.39% fatality rate.3  While the mortality rate of SARS was higher and most cases of COVID-19 are mild, it seems obvious that COVID-19 is much more contagious or spreads more easily.  Businesses need to be prepared to respond to a coronavirus outbreak should it occur in their area.

How COVID-19 Spreads

While more research is needed to determine exactly how COVID-19 is transmitted, these are the current best guesses of how it spreads:

  • Close contact with infected people 4,6
  • Saliva and mucous from mouth, nose, and lungs4
  • You are most contagious when you show symptoms4
  • You may be somewhat contagious before you show symptoms4
  • It may be spread by touching a surface the virus is present on, and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.4
  • On average, 1 person could infect approximately 3.28 other people5
  • The virus could potentially live for up to 9 days on surfaces6

Nine days of a surface being infected is a long time, and although debatable, it would help explain the rapid global transmission of the disease.  It would also explain why Princess Cruises is anticipated to spend what could be hundreds of millions of dollars to have their Diamond Princess ship completely decontaminated from bow to stern and top to bottom following the COVID-19 outbreak onboard.  They understand that if there is another outbreak on the same ship which could be traced to the first, it would ruin their reputation, cause their stockholders to flee, and potentially put them out of business.

How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus

Because COVID-19 is so new, researchers and the government do not have all the facts and are relying on past figures to determine how to manage COVID-19.  However, based on historical coronaviruses with similar characteristics, we can make educated decisions. There is no reason to panic, but there are steps you can take to help prevent infection, such as:

  • Treat it with more caution than the flu
  • Practice good hygiene by washing hands frequently with soap for at least 20 seconds, and remind workers to do the same
  • If soap is unavailable, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Keep hands away from your mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Use face covers and gloves when in public, but make sure you understand the basics of donning and doffing PPE
  • Stay home if you’re sick and encourage staff to do the same.
  • If you have an outbreak at your business, don’t treat it lightly and call the right people to help with decontamination
  • This strain could live for extended periods of time on surfaces, so clean and disinfect frequently touched areas such as doorknobs daily
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