Coronavirus FAQ: What you need to know

CLICK TO EXPAND: Coronavirus 2019-nCoV symptoms. (Getty Images)

The global coronavirus outbreak that first emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year is changing life in the D.C. area.

The leaders of the District, Maryland and Virginia have all declared states of emergency and announced several other actions to curb the spread of the disease, such as prohibiting large gatherings of people and closing bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms.

Click to see the latest number of cases nationally and internationally, according to Johns Hopkins University.

There’s seemingly as much misinformation as information about the virus. So here are some common questions about the coronavirus and what we really know, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. health departments and other sources. 

Q: How many coronavirus cases are there in Maryland, Virginia and D. C.?

In the D.C. area, more positive cases for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are being reported as testing becomes more available.

As of April 5, here’s how the cases break down:


Number of positive results: 1,097

Number of related deaths: 24


Number of positive results: 4,045

Number of related deaths: 91


Number of positive results: 2,878

Number of related deaths: 54

WTOP has compiled the results and links to the health departments.

Q: What is the coronavirus exactly?

There are lots of coronaviruses, and most aren’t that serious. The CDC says this is what they call a novel coronavirus — something they haven’t seen in humans before. They’ve got the DNA genome figured out, and it’s likely related to a bat virus, similar to SARS. The disease that’s caused by the new coronavirus is called COVID-19, which stands for “coronavirus disease 2019.”

Q: What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

The most common symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.

However, for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Q: So, what should I be doing during the coronavirus outbreak?

The CDC is recommending the usual steps:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • 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.
  • Follow the CDC on Twitter for the latest announcements on the outbreak.

Q: How deadly is coronavirus, compared with the flu?

While there is not a lot of data yet about COVID-19, it is unclear how deadly it might become.

In severe years of seasonal flu, about 0.1% of people die. So far, the numbers are a lot higher for the coronavirus, and the death rate is higher. That’s based on the earliest cases, though.

Here’s how the two compare.

Q: How long does it take for the body to fight off the coronavirus?

If everything works out OK, “that whole process evolves over a period of a week or two or three,” said Dr. Ray Viscidi, a virologist and professor of pediatrics and oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Read about how the whole process works.

Q: If you get exposed to COVID-19, how long before you actually get sick?

Two to 14 days. That’s why the quarantines, or the amount of time a patient has to stay home if their doctor allows them to go, is two weeks.

Q: What does the CDC have to say about COVID-19?

Here’s the latest, regularly updated, from the CDC on coronavirus in the U.S.

Q: Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?

Not yet. Scientists have been working around the clock to come up with a vaccine.

Q: What are doctors doing with patients who have COVID-19?

Making sure they don’t dehydrate, monitoring the functions of major organs and treating symptoms as they pop up.

Q: What advice is being given about wearing face masks during the coronavirus outbreak?

The advice has changed since the pandemic started.

Initially, the CDC did not recommend you wear a mask to protect yourself from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.

Now, in light of new information about how people who lack symptoms can transmit the coronavirus before showing symptoms, the CDC recommends you wear face coverings in public areas where it is difficult to keep 6 or more feet from someone, like at the grocery store.

People who show symptoms of COVID-19 should wear masks to prevent the spread of the disease to others.

Here’s more guidance on wearing face masks and how to make one from things you have at home.

Q: I keep hearing about social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. What’s that?

It’s increasing the physical space between people to help keep the virus from spreading.

The recommendation for the coronavirus is that people stay at least 6 feet apart at all times. That’s why so many events have been canceled, and why places such as restaurants, bars and gyms are being closed.

Q: Social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak isn’t easy with small children.

True, but Dr. Steve Silvestro, of Metropolitan Pediatrics in North Bethesda, said getting outside is still OK. Activities such as hikes and bike rides are good for social distancing. Germs can live on outdoor surfaces, but that might be better than hanging around breathing the same indoor air as your kids and their friends. He had more tips for parents.

Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman agreed, calling outdoor play “particularly good now.” He suggested forming a core group of kids and families your child interacts with, which will still be a much smaller groups than the dozens our hundreds they interact with at school.

Q: Stay-at-home orders have been issued to curb the coronavirus. What do they mean?

Virginia’s stay-at-home order is in effect until June 10. It means you should only go out for essentials. Read what’s allowed in Virginia.

Maryland’s stay-at-home order means you should only go out for essentials.

Read what’s allowed in Maryland.

Q: What businesses are allowed to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic?

The stay-at-home orders exempt some businesses.

Find out what businesses can stay open in Maryland.

Find out what businesses can stay open in D.C.

Find out what businesses can stay open in Virginia.

Q: What is Metro doing about the coronavirus?

Metro has cut service significantly. Effective Monday, April 6, the new rail service hours Monday through Friday will be 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. until further notice, with trains every 15 minutes on the Red Line, and every 20 minutes on all other lines.Nineteen stations are closed.

Bus service is dramatically reduced. Final bus trips will depart at or before 11 p.m. each night, and buses will run a modified Sunday schedule weekdays. On weekends, only 27 bus routes will run on reduced schedules.

MetroAccess subscription trips are canceled until further notice, but you can schedule individual paratransit trips.

Here’s how mass transit services across the region are adjusting in response to the coronavirus.

Q: With stay-at-home orders issued, how can I get takeout food during the coronavirus outbreak?

Gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned around the region. If you are going to get food from a restaurant, it will have to be carryout.

WTOP has compiled a list of some of the restaurants offering carryout.

Q: How have grocery stores changed their practices during the coronavirus outbreak?

Stores have implemented special hours for senior citizens. Some are limiting how many customers can come into stores and how far apart they need to be. Some now provide a barrier between customers and cashiers. Others are limiting their hours.
WTOP has compiled a roundup of what grocery stores are doing locally.

Q: But that still means going out among people. How much will that help?

Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, told The Washington Post that her main concern is for the at-risk population, as many seniors who are showing symptoms likely will not be out.

Alysa Krain, an infectious disease doctor specializing in geriatric medicine, also told The Post that it could be a good idea, but only if crowd size and distance between shoppers is monitored. She said that having friends and family go out to shop for seniors is still a safer option.

Q: Should I be going to the doctor for reasons other than the coronavirus?

Probably not if you can help it: The D.C. Department of Health announced March 17 that it’s recommending that all elective medical procedures, both inside and outside hospitals, be postponed.

The department is also recommending that “all non-urgent hospital and outpatient visits and non-urgent dental procedures” be postponed.

The department said in a statement that the recommendations are inspired by the desire to reduce disease transmission, protect healthcare providers and conserve protective equipment in the event that a surge in coronavirus cases.

Q: Can I go to the dentist during the coronavirus outbreak?

Avoid it unless it’s essential. “In light of the rapidly growing developments regarding official responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Maryland State Dental Association recommends all dental practices voluntarily suspend all nonessential and non-urgent dental care for at least three weeks,” the the Maryland State Dental Association recommended on March 17.

Q: How are pregnant women faring during the coronavirus outbreak?

That’s not clear. “We don’t know if the virus can transmit to the fetus,” said Dr. Vinisha Amin, who specializes in hospital and family medicine at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air. “And with that said, taking those extra precautionary measure to make sure you’re safe is very important.”

Q: Can I do the laundry of a person with the coronavirus? Can I mix it in with mine?

You should be OK as long as you play it safe, said Dr. Avni Jain, a primary care doctor with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group.

The CDC says you should wear gloves; wash according to manufacturer’s instructions, in the warmest appropriate temperature, and dry them completely, she said.

You should also wear gloves (or at least wash your hands afterward) and keep the clothes in a disposable hamper or disposable bag before washing them.

Q: What’s the U.S. government doing about COVID-19?

President Donald Trump signed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package into law after swift and near-unanimous action by Congress to support businesses, rush resources to overburdened health care providers and help struggling families during the deepening coronavirus epidemic.

The legislation will pour $1,200 direct payments to individuals and a flood of subsidized loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses facing extinction in an economic shutdown caused as Americans self-isolate by the tens of millions.

Find out how you will get in your stimulus check.
How much will each person receive for a stimulus check if the $2 trillion bill passes today?

Q: I’ve been laid off from my job because of the coronavirus outbreak, and I can’t pay my rent. What happens now?

You can’t be evicted in D.C., Maryland or Virginia. D.C. has stayed all evictions until May 1. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said April 1 that evictions were stayed until April 26 (you can see him saying it here at about the 21-minute mark). In Maryland, people who show that their income or child-care situation has been affected by COVID-19 can’t be evicted; there is no expiration date.

Q: What are schools doing to protect students from the coronavirus?

Local school systems and universities are making changes.

Maryland schools will stay closed through at least April 24, officials announced on March 25.

D.C. Public Schools will remain closed and students will participate in distance learning through April 24, extending the previously announced closure by nearly a month.

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered on March 23 all public and private schools to close for the rest of the academic year.

Here’s a look at how schools have changed learning plans and free meal distribution.

Q: What should I tell my children about the coronavirus?

Chris Taylor, a therapist at Rathbone & Associates in Montgomery County, said it is important to sit down and talk with your children about what is going on and validate their feelings.

“You don’t want to overwhelm them with facts, but I’d give them some facts,” Taylor said.

Tell them what you know, he suggested, such as this: Children are less likely to experience the serious symptoms of the illness. He also said it’s important for adults to keep their fears in check when talking to children.

“We definitely don’t want to put our anxiety onto the kids. We’re trying to calm them,” Taylor said.

Also, for children who are not in school, Taylor said keeping a routine is important. Write out a plan for the days that the children are home. That includes when they’ll study and when they can play.

“I think that really helps calm kids down and helps calm us down, I think, as well,” Taylor said.

Q: Is the coronavirus making me eat and drink a lot?

That’s not the virus, said Anne Arundel County Behavioral Health Director Sandy O’Neill; that’s stress, and there are better ways to deal with it.

“Those are perhaps coping skills that you turn to that are not perhaps the best coping skills,” O’Neill said, and if you’re the type who turns to food and drink when the going gets tough, you might want to get rid of what she called “environmental triggers,” such as alcohol and unhealthy foods that you might have handy, “so that it’s not the first that you see when you’re feeling stressed. … Think of something else you can do to help you with those feelings.”

Her suggestion? Go outside, even just for a few minutes to take a deep breath.

Q: When might the coronavirus outbreak end?

“The honest answer is, we don’t know,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Glenn Wortmann, of MedStar Washington Hospital Center. His best estimate was six months to a year, although he acknowledged “whether we’ll be doing this, with everything shut down, I don’t think so.” His hope is that people who have had the virus will become immune to it, and that will slow the spread.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Colleen Kelleher, Teta Alim, Mike Murillo, Kristi King, Michelle Basch, Jack Moore, Melissa Howell, Luke Lukert, Will Vitka and Tiffany Arnold, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2020 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up