What You Should Know About the Coronavirus (And How It's Affecting Mental Health)

By Michelle S. Loyd

Updated May 12, 2020

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COVID-19 -- Developing Story

If you've been keeping up with worldwide and U.S. news, then you've already heard about COVID-19. Also known as the "coronavirus," it has officially been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). This declaration was made in response to hundreds of thousands of cases of COVID-19 erupting in an outbreak around the world.

In this article, we'll discuss what you should know about COVID-19. This includes what it is, where it started, how it spreads, the current status of the virus, and how to stay safe. We'll also talk about the effect that worldwide panic over the coronavirus is having on mental health.

At the time of publishing this article, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization, and public health officials worldwide are still learning how COVID-19 (the "coronavirus") spreads.

What Is the Coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus (COVID-19) belongs to a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory illnesses. Diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) are examples of illnesses on the severe end of the COVID-19 spectrum. Experts say that some strains of the virus can be transmitted between people and animals, but at this time, the active strain of COVID-19 that is causing a worldwide pandemic appears to be mostly affecting humans.

Where Did COVID-19 Start?

The first reported case of COVID-19 (the latest known strand of the coronavirus) occurred in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. Since then, there have been globally reported cases of this previously unknown strain of the coronavirus.

How Does COVID 19 Spread?

So far, world public health officials have uncovered a few potential routes of exposure. These include person-to-person contact, physical contact with surfaces or objects, and direct contact with affected persons.

The primary method of exposure is the inhalation of airborne droplets from someone infected by the virus. Symptoms of COVID-19 mimic those of other upper respiratory infections like the common cold. This is why it's important to keep a safe distance from people who are suddenly coughing, sneezing, or exhibiting other respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath at this time.

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Source: CDC graphic via cdc.org

Community spread -- where people aren't sure how they came in contact with the virus -- is the least commonly reported method of acquiring the virus to date. Right now, there are few spontaneous cases of COVID-19 showing up via community spread.

For the Latest Updates on COVID-19

The WHO publishes a daily situation report online that highlights the latest news and updates surrounding COVID-19. Click the link here to view the latest coronavirus situation reports published by the World Health Organization.

How to Stay Safe

For now, experts say the chances of contracting the coronavirus are relatively low for the majority of the general public. This number increases based on several factors, such as proximity to a reported outbreak. This is especially the case if you're located in an area where the virus is active and spreading.

The World Health Organization has officially advised the public to keep at least 3 feet away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Frequent handwashing is also recommended to prevent the spread of the virus by person-to-person contact. You should wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or roughly the amount of time it takes to sing the alphabet. Wash your hands before eating and sleeping, and wash your hands after touching surfaces like doorknobs, cellphones, etc.

The CDC and WHO also recommend following good respiratory hygiene by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. This is to prevent the disease from being spread by droplets inhaled that make respiratory contact through the mouth or nose. Avoid touching your hand, nose, and mouth, especially after making person-to-person contact with someone who is coughing, sneezing, or displaying other respiratory symptoms.

What to Do If You Suspect You're Infected with the Coronavirus

If you or someone near you is displaying symptoms of COVID-19, including shortness of breath, coughing, sneezing, or other respiratory symptoms, contact your local health provider or public health department by phone to learn what steps to take to get treatment. COVID-19 has been responsive to treatment in most cases. If you're having symptoms, the earlier you can get treatment, the better.

Source: CDC graphic via cdc.gov

Mental Health Concerns Surrounding the Coronavirus Outbreak

If you're suffering from mental health issues and you feel they've gotten worse as a result of the recent coronavirus outbreak, you're definitely not alone. People worldwide received an uncomfortable jolt when the WHO officially declared that COVID-19 was a pandemic in early March 2020.

If you're concerned about the coronavirus, the most important thing you can do for your mental health is to remain calm. If you're taking any medications, talk to your doctor or medical care provider about how you can access your medication in the event of an unexpected change to the status of COVID-19.

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Get Support Online

If you're suffering from mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, make an effort to reach out and learn where your local mental health resources are in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. If you see a therapist regularly and have concerns about missing mental health appointments due to the coronavirus, be aware that there are online options like BetterHelp and other online telemedicine providers like Doctor On Demand that can provide distance-based support during this time of worldwide crisis.

The trained therapists at BetterHelp are available to help you manage your anxiety about COVID-19 in practical and healthy ways. BetterHelp therapists are available online, so you can connect with them from the comfort and privacy of your own home. This means you can still take part in psychotherapy sessions if you're in an area affected by the coronavirus. Follow the precautions outlined by your local authorities as they pertain to the virus and areas deemed as off-limits.

Remember that the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus is fairly low for most of the general population. Try to remain calm and stay safe by following official recommendations from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Health Organization. If you need mental health support for dealing with issues surrounding the coronavirus, contact a licensed therapy expert at BetterHelp.com today.


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