When can I leave the house? How do I pay my mortgage? Your real-world coronavirus questions, answered

What you need to know about the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

What is it?

What is the coronavirus and how did it begin?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, named for their crown-like spikes. COVID-19, originally called the “novel coronavirus,” was first detected in December 2019. COVID-19 is the specific, new disease at the center of this pandemic which is caused by a coronavirus.

The first infection was linked to a market in Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million people.The first case in Chicago was confirmed in late January.

How is the coronavirus spread? How long does the virus stay on surfaces?

The virus is spreading rapidly from person to person, and scientists are still learning more about how infections travel. According to the CDC, the virus likely spreads primarily via respiratory droplets, which can travel when a person coughs or sneezes. It’s believed that people who are in close contact with one another — within about 6 feet — face the greatest risk of transmitting the infection.

There’s no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through food, according to the CDC. It is, however, possible that a person can get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own face. There is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that is shipped over a period of days or weeks, according to the CDC.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and some people don’t have any symptoms at all. The most common symptoms resemble the flu and include fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some people also develop aches and pains, diarrhea, and some have reported losing their sense of smell or taste.

About 1 in 6 people infected with COVID-19 will become seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing, according to the World Health Organization. If you experience fever, cough and shortness of breath, call your doctor.

How does the coronavirus compare with the flu?

In the U.S., influenza has caused 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually since 2010, according to the CDC. So far this season, there have been at least 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from flu. At least 125 of those deaths were in children.

The number of documented COVID-19 cases in Illinois, the U.S. and around the world is growing rapidly day by day. We’re tracking the latest numbers in real time on our Coronavirus Data page. Check in for daily updates on testing data, geographic case mapping and more.

Is there a vaccine? Can coronavirus be cured?

There are currently no drugs or vaccines for coronaviruses, including COVID-19. Doctors can only treat the symptoms the viruses cause.

Chinese scientists have decoded the COVID-19 DNA and made that information public, and several pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. and abroad are working to develop a vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated that a vaccine would be ready within 12 to 18 months.

What can I do? How will this affect me?

How can you prepare for a possible COVID-19 infection?

Take typical flu-season precautions: Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth. Cover your cough. Stay home when you’re sick. Clean household objects and surfaces. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before eating or preparing food.

Who is most at risk of becoming very sick or dying?

The general American public is at low risk of developing COVID-19 with severe symptoms, according to the CDC. Those at a higher risk of exposure to the virus include people who live in communities that are seeing sustained transmission, health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients and close contacts of patients.

As with seasonal flu, people at highest risk for severe disease and death include people over 60 years old and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer, according to the WHO.

How does coronavirus affect children?

Coronavirus infections in children appears to be rare, with about 2% of COVID-19 cases reported among people under 19 years old, according to a WHO study in China. An even smaller proportion of this age group developed severe (2.5%) or critical disease (0.2%), and just one person under 20 had died in China as of February.

Do I need to wear a mask when I go outside?

The CDC and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recommend wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Officials stressed that medical-grade masks should be reserved for health workers and others on the front lines of the pandemic.

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?

Scientists have offered evidence that asymptomatic people, — those that show no clear symptoms — may still be infected and can spread the coronavirus.

The federal government issued new guidance warning that anyone exposed to the disease can be considered a carrier.

A study by researchers in Singapore estimated that around 10% of new infections may be sparked by people who carry the virus but have not yet suffered its flu-like symptoms.

In response to that study and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed how it defined the risk of infection for Americans. The agency’s new guidance targets people who have no symptoms, but were exposed to others with known or suspected infections. It essentially says that anyone may be a carrier, whether that person has symptoms or not.

Will warm weather stop the outbreak of COVID-19?

The spread of some viruses, like the flu or common cold, decreases during warmer months. However, since we’re still learning much about COVID-19, we don’t know yet if warmer temperatures will lessen transmission

What if I feel sick?

What should you do if you feel sick?

Stay home from work. Call your doctor if you experience COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Tell them you may have been exposed to COVID-19 or if you are in a higher risk group — over 60, or if you have underlying health condition.

If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911.

·Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

·Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

·New confusion or inability to arouse

·Bluish lips or face.

Can I get tested? Where can I get tested?

This map has every location where you can currently get tested for COVID-19 in Chicago, the suburbs, and northern Indiana. Click on each site on the map for more information to help you determine if you are eligible for testing there.

Stay-at-home/Social distancing

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is deliberately increasing the space between people to avoid spreading an illness. Staying at least 6 feet away from other people reduces the chances of transmitting COVID-19. Other examples of social distancing include working from home, closing schools or moving to online classes, visiting loved ones virtually instead of in person, suspending worship services, and canceling or postponing large meetings and gatherings.

What does the Governor’s stay at home order mean?

The stay at home order directs Illinois residents to stop movements outside of their homes beyond essential needs to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

How is the state encouraging social distancing?

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has prohibited public and private gatherings of 10 or more people through April 30. This includes community, civic, public leisure, faith-based events, sporting events with spectators, concerts, conventions and any similar event or activity that brings even small groups of people into a room or space at the same. The governor also, by Executive Order, closed schools, bars and restaurants through April 30. Restaurant kitchens can remain open and put in place drive-thru, curbside pickup and delivery options.

How long must we stay at home?

The governor’s order is in effect through April 30, although that was an extension of his initial order. Depending on the rate of spread or the effectiveness of containment efforts, the date could be further pushed back. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said April 6 that Chicago and Illinois are a “long way away” from lifting the stay-at-home order because the number of coronavirus cases in Chicago and Illinois is “not near the peak.”

Why is this stay at home order necessary?

If Illinois did not act to combat the spread, modeling indicates many thousands of people in the state could die.

When is it okay for me to leave my home?

According the governor’s order, you can leave your home only for the following activities:

  • Health and safety – obtaining emergency services, visiting a healthcare professional, picking up medical supplies or medications.
  • Outdoor activities – walking, hiking, jogging, biking. If you do leave home, stay at least six feet apart for other people. However, in Chicago the lakefront and parks, including Millennium Park and the 606, are closed to reduce the possibility of mass gatherings.
  • Supplies and Services – shopping for groceries, gasoline, take-out food, products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of homes.
  • Caring for others – travel to care for the elderly, family member, persons with disabilities or underlying health conditions, a friend or pet in another household.
  • Essential businesses – travel to perform work providing essential products and services, such as health care and public health, public safety, governmental functions, banks, food and agriculture and media.
  • Funerals – permissible with no more than 10 attendees and the space utilized allows for social distancing. Venues should make accommodations for remote attendance.

If you’re struggling financially due to the coronavirus

What should you do if you lost your job?

Nearly 10 million Americans have lost their jobs and applied for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks — a stunning record high that reflects the near-complete shutdown of the U.S. economy.

Workers who have lost their jobs or income through no fault of their own should immediately file a claim for unemployment aid through their state labor departments. The benefit program is administered by state agencies. Most states are encouraging people to request benefits online or, if necessary, over the phone.

How can apply for unemployment benefits?

Because of such a high demand, Illinois Department of Employment Security is asking applicants to call or file on certain days based on their last names:

When can I file online?

  • If you have a last name that begins with A-M: Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays.
  • If you have a last name that begins with N-Z: Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays.
  • Saturdays are for anyone who could not file during their regular days during the week.

When can I file by phone?

  • If you have a last name that begins with A-M: Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • If you have a last name that begins with N-Z: Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Fridays (from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.) are available for anyone who could not file during their regular day.
  • The number to call is 800-244-5631.

What if you have trouble paying your mortgage?

The $2 trillion federal CARES Act — that’s the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — passed by Congress offers relief to about 70 percent of those with home mortgages. And there are options for other borrowers. Read our full story to see if you qualify. 

What should you do if you’re struggling to keep food on your table?

There are many resources to help with food insecurity. The Greater Chicago Food Depository has a database of the area’s food pantries. You can search them here by zip code to find one closest to you.

If you are 60 or older and homebound, you might qualify for Meals on Wheels online or call Chicago’s Senior Services/Area Agency on Aging at (312) 744-4016.

Sources: Associated Press, USA Today, Illinois Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois Department of Employment Security.

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