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USA TODAY answers a question you may be wondering: Is coronavirus worse than the flu?

USA TODAY

The coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed many with worries, concerns and changes to their daily lives. 

The Republic staff has answered some frequently asked questions, but we know that as things change, new questions might arise. We want to know what is on your mind and we want to be as accurate, helpful and clear in our coverage as possible.  

What are you wondering? Have you seen something you don’t understand? How has coronavirus affected your daily life? We’ve got a helpline established here, and our team will get you answers as best we can. (En espanol aqui)

When will the outbreak lose momentum?

It’s not clear. Experts don’t know enough about the new coronavirus to predict exactly when the spike in cases might subside.

But data shows preventing transmission early on slows the spread so patients don’t overwhelm hospitals and fewer people die. That’s why events in the U.S. have been cancelled, travel has been postponed and companies have told employees to work from home.

Countries that were hit first by the virus are showing hopeful signs.

Chinese officials announced that the country’s cases have peaked and speculated the global outbreak could be over by June if countries act swiftly. South Korea has seen infections slow as it has offered widespread testing and personalized text messages alerting citizens when a case is diagnosed nearby.

Some scientists believe warmer weather could help, but they don’t know for sure.

Influenza and some other types of coronaviruses lose strength as winter wanes because we spend less time indoors, sharing space with people who might spread infection, and because sunlight can be harmful to viruses but helpful to our immune systems, according to Jeremy Rossman, honorary senior lecturer in virology at the University of Kent.

But experts warn it’s too soon to make predictions about the impact of summer on COVID-19.

Plus, as summer approaches in places like the U.S., the opposite is happening in the southern hemisphere, such as in Brazil, Australia and parts of Africa.

Can the new coronavirus be sexually transmitted?

Although scientists do not believe the illness is sexually transmitted, kissing and touching an infected person increases your risk of exposure, according to Anna Muldoon, a former science policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The virus is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, said Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins University. People may inhale the invisible droplets in the air or touch the droplets after they land on surfaces around the infected person.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying six feet or more from an infected person.

If your spouse has COVID-19, health officials recommend sleeping in a different room, not sharing dishes or towels, washing your hands frequently, cleaning common surfaces such as doorknobs and bathrooms with a household disinfectant and asking the infected person to wear a mask when in a shared room, the MIT Medical School said.

What are the locations of positive patients?

Arizona public health officials have shared limited information about people who are sick, such as the patient’s gender, age range, county and how they got the virus (through travel or from someone locally), but not their exact location.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has used contact tracing to privately warn people who interacted with infected people and were at risk of exposure.

Officials worry sharing more information could hamper health care facilities where patients are identified and deter people from seeking treatment out of fear they could be publicly exposed.

But other countries have taken a different approach.

South Korea, for instance, sends personalized text messages to citizens when an infection has been identified nearby and posts detailed travel histories of patients on public websites, including sometimes the patient’s home or employer.

As of March 11, there were nine confirmed COVID-19 cases in Arizona:

  • Maricopa County:
    • A man in his 20s who had traveled to Wuhan, China, and is part of the Arizona State University community but does not live in a dorm. He had mild symptoms and was isolated at home for more than three weeks until he tested negative.
    • A man in his 20s who was not hospitalized. He had contact with a person who had traveled outside Arizona and became infected.
    • A man in his 90s who was recovering in the hospital in stable condition.
  • Pima County:
    • A person of undisclosed age who had traveled to an area where infections had spread but had mild symptoms and was recovering at home.
  • Pinal County:
    • A health care worker in her 40s who was hospitalized in stable condition. Officials don’t know how the health care worker caught the illness. She works in Maricopa County.
    • Her husband.
    • Her son, who attends the American Leadership Academy, Ironwood campus.
    • Two people in their 60s who belong to the same household and were recovering at home.

How long does it take to get coronavirus test results?

LabCorp, one of the largest testing companies in the country, says it takes about three to four days for results of its COVID-19 test to come back.

But some state labs, such as in Colorado, have said they can turn results around in about 24 hours.

How many people have died from coronavirus?

Worldwide, about 4,500 people have died in the past few months from COVID-19. 

The death rate is at least 10 times that of influenza, officials have said.

I heard the recovery rate is 99.7%? Is that true?

No, the recovery rate appears to be closer to 97-98% based on current estimates of the new coronavirus death rate of 2-3%, although that number could fluctuate as scientists gather more data.

In about 80% of cases, the symptoms of the new coronavirus will be mild and patients will recover without special treatment, the WHO said. Some people may even get coronavirus without ever feeling unwell.

But about 16% of cases are expected to become serious, the WHO said. 

The CDC is recommending that anyone who thinks they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and develops a fever and respiratory symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing call their doctor immediately. 

How are COVID-19 symptoms different from allergies?

People with COVID-19 have symptoms almost identical to the flu, except that the symptoms come on more gradually, within two to 14 days after exposure, the CDC said.

Allergies caused by pollen, grass or ragweed may cause similar symptoms, such as congestion, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, shortness of breath and tiredness, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology and Mayo Clinic.

But COVID-19 is not associated with common allergy symptoms such as an itchy nose, eyes or mouth; watery, red or puffy eyes; or rashes, officials said.

And allergies don’t usually cause fever, aches, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea, which can come with the new coronavirus.

The CDC recommends that anyone who thinks they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and develops a fever and respiratory symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing call their doctor immediately. 

If you suspect you have coronavirus, is there a hotline you can call for more information before making any drastic decisions?

If you start having symptoms, such as fever and cough, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of the illness, you should call your primary care doctor, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Your doctor will work with local and state officials to determine if you need to be tested, ADHS said.

Don’t visit an urgent care or hospital without first calling your family doctor, unless it’s an emergency, such as if you are having difficulty breathing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. This will help prevent spreading the virus to other patients.

Symptoms include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, aches, chills, tiredness, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea.

I am a volunteer at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and I want to know if it is safe to be there.

You should consult with your primary care doctor and museum officials.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has not ordered museums to shut down, but event organizers have cancelled many large gatherings in the state, such as concerts, festivals and worship services.

The governor of California on Wednesday announced gatherings of 250 people or more should be postponed or canceled and smaller events should only go forward if attendees would be able to stand six feet apart from each other.

If I feel sick, at what point should I get tested and how? 

If you start having flu-like symptoms, such as fever and cough, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of the illness, you should call your primary care doctor, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Your doctor will work with local and state officials to determine if you need to be tested, ADHS said.

Don’t visit an urgent care or hospital without first calling your family doctor, unless it’s an emergency, such as if you are having difficulty breathing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. This will help prevent spreading the virus to other patients.

Symptoms include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, aches, chills, tiredness, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea.

Not everyone with flu-like symptoms will receive a test.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association said health officials have prioritized testing in patients who have serious, unexplained respiratory illness and traveled to an affected area, such as China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea, or were in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Testing that is too widespread could overwhelm health care services that are needed for patients with severe cases, the article said.

But testing throughout the country has ramped up in recent days.

How much will it cost me to get a COVID-19 test?

Medicare, Medicaid and major U.S. health insurers — including Aetna, Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna and Humana — announced they will cover all coronavirus testing and treatment, so patients should have no out-of-pocket costs. Several announced additional benefits, such as free telemedicine. 

The IRS also clarified that high-deductible health plans can cover coronavirus testing and treatment before patients have met their deductibles. 

But it’s best to call the 800 number on the back of your insurance card to make sure about the costs before undergoing coronavirus testing and treatment, so you’re aren’t caught by surprise fees.

How do people without insurance get tested? 

Uninsured patients may be able to receive free COVID-19 testing and treatment from a public health clinic or health care provider that agrees to write off the cost of care, according to Berkeley School of Public Health professor Stephen Shortell. But it’s best to call ahead.

To find a free or low-cost health clinic near you, go to https://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/ or call the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration at 877-464-4772 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET weekdays.

Do not show up at a clinic, urgent care or hospital unless it is an emergency, such as if you are struggling to breathe. Instead, call the clinic, describe your symptoms and follow the doctor’s instructions.

If you go to a doctor’s office or hospital that does not write off the cost of care, you may be charged $500 to $1,000 for a test, according to Johns Hopkins University professor Gerard Anderson.

Hospital leaders have urged the Trump administration to use a national disaster program to fund coronavirus care for the nation’s 27 million uninsured people, but federal officials have not done so yet.

If you become infected with the new coronavirus, can you get it again?

Scientists don’t know for sure.

In a small number of cases, patients who appeared to have recovered from the illness experienced a second onset of symptoms and tested positive for the virus again.

However, experts say this doesn’t prove people can get reinfected. 

It’s possible that testing was inaccurate, people were not fully recovered or people’s immune systems did not develop enough antibodies during the illness to ensure immunity.

Another possibility: The disease could have several phases that scientists are only now observing, a period of symptoms followed by dormancy followed by more symptoms. More research is needed to provide an answer. 

At 2 medical appointments last week, doctors extended their hands to shake mine. They seemed surprised when I declined. Isn’t there a protocol in place for health care providers? 

You get kudos from the experts.

“I congratulate your reader because that’s very good,” said Pima County Public Health Interim Director Bob England. “What we’re trying to navigate is doing rational things to decrease risk without disrupting our society so much. But the one thing we all agree on to do is the personal stuff, the individual prevention of transmission: Washing your hands, keeping your hands away from your face” and not shaking hands.

England said he meets with dozens of people a day and “everybody’s been doing the elbow bump,” which is both safer and keeps things “light-hearted.” 

He thinks family physicians should use this as a teaching moment.

“I would encourage docs as a teaching tool, when they come into a room, not to shake the patient’s hands, as a way to drive home the point” of practicing good hygiene, England said. “Finally, maybe people will listen because it’s the same message every flu season.”

Consumer reporter Rebekah L. Sanders investigates issues of fraud and abuse involving businesses, health-care entities and government agencies. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @RebekahLSanders. 

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