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Q&A: Novel coronavirus

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

In less than a week, New Mexico went from having no cases of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, to 13 cases. In that same span, the governor declared a state of emergency, state officials banned all large public gatherings and cancelled public schools for three weeks, and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe cancelled its Masses and closed its schools – all in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, which the World Health Organization is calling a pandemic.

Below are frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and answers from the New Mexico Department of Health, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are common in people and many animal species. A new coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019. The virus is called SARS-CoV-2. The respiratory illness caused by the virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. What does that mean?

A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. Pandemics happen when a new virus spreads easily between people because there is no preexisting immunity against the virus. A pandemic declaration will often trigger more emergency preparations by governments and health care systems.

Why has the global response to the coronavirus been different from response to the flu?

Experts are working to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19, but it is thought to be higher than with most flu strains.

Medications can address flu symptoms and often shorten the time of the illness. Flu vaccines are effective at preventing dangerous flu types. There is no coronavirus vaccine, and medications for symptoms are being tested.

There are 1 billion cases of the flu worldwide, and more than 156,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide. More than 5,800 coronavirus deaths have been reported and more than 73,000 people have recovered. Every year, as many as 640,000 people die from the flu.

How do I know if I have coronavirus?

Symptoms include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and fatigue.

What do I do if I feel sick?

Call the state coronavirus hotline, 1-855-600-3453, before leaving your home. Do not call 911 unless you’re experiencing emergency symptoms. Tell a doctor about your recent travel history or if you have had contact with anyone who is displaying COVID-19 symptoms. If you have symptoms, but are not sure you have COVID-19, call the hotline before going to the doctor. A nurse will evaluate your symptoms and determine if you need to be tested for the virus.

If you are sick, don’t go to work, attend large gatherings or visit people who are elderly or have sensitive or compromised immune systems. Wear a face mask if you are sick. You should not wear a mask if you are not sick or are not a health care worker caring for someone who cannot wear a mask.

When should I call 911?

If you have emergency symptoms, such as chest pain, confusion or bluish lips or face, seek medical help immediately.

I’ve traveled recently. What should I do?

People who have traveled to these areas within the last 14 days and display symptoms should call the hotline: China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), New York City or San Francisco.

How can I avoid getting sick?

Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or a cough. Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% alcohol.

If you must cough or sneeze, do so into your elbow. Avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth and nose. Throw used tissues in the garbage can, then wash your hands.

Clean tables, doorknobs, light switches and cellphones with disinfectants or diluted bleach. Wear disposable gloves when cleaning.

How does novel coronavirus spread?

The virus spreads between people who are within about six feet of one another. Respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people and be inhaled.

Doctors believe people are most contagious when they are showing the most severe symptoms.

It may be possible to contract the virus by touching a surface that has the virus on it, then touching one’s mouth or nose, but doctors don’t think that is the main way the virus spreads.

How do I avoid getting others sick, even if I am healthy?

Avoid large gatherings and unnecessary travel. Local leaders have heeded guidance from public health experts and closed schools, church services and other large events. Continue to wash your hands and disinfect surfaces in your home. Stay home if you are sick with any illness.

How do coronavirus symptoms differ from those of other medical conditions?

Flu symptoms include cough, sudden fever, muscle and joint pain, runny noise and sore throat. Allergy symptoms include sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, and runny nose.

How should I prepare?

Limit trips to the grocery store. Have a two-week supply of cleaning products, non-perishable foods and medications.

However, do not load up with more than you need, and consider donating supplies to food banks and nursing homes.

Have a plan if you or a family member gets sick with coronavirus or any other illness, or if you have to work from home. Stay in contact with family and employers by phone or email.

The state coronavirus hotline number is 1-855-600-3453.

Visit for updates about coronavirus in New Mexico.

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