13 Coronavirus Facts You Don't Already Know

How long does it stay on surfaces? Who's least affected? These coronavirus facts may surprise you.


It's highly unlikely that you don't already know a lot about coronavirus, the global pandemic currently rolling across the globe, killing thousands and infecting hundreds of thousands, including world leaders and movie stars. In fact, we'd bet an hour doesn't go by that you don't hear about some new coronavirus information. But while you've no doubt read plenty of alarming headlines about the novel virus known as COVID-19, you may have missed some of the fine print. We consulted scientific research and medical professionals to gather the facts about coronavirus you likely haven't heard.

COVID-19 can live on surfaces for up to three days.

Woman in a cafe with a cup of coffee

Sure, you know that you don't want to grab the seat at the coffee shop next to someone who's coughing away, but have you stopped to think about who was sitting at your table before you… even as long as three days ago? The truth is, coronavirus can live on surfaces long after an infected person has left. A new study from the National Institutes of Health, which has not yet been peer reviewed, found that coronavirus can live on plastic and stainless steel for as long as three days.

It poses a greater risk to people with obesity.

Man's stomach

While it's well known that the elderly and those with compromised respiratory systems are at a greater risk of contracting and dying from coronavirus, less discussed is the fact that obesity and diabetes can also make people more susceptible.

"Patients with diabetes are more susceptible to severe complications from viral infections of any kind, and as a result, are considered a high risk population for COVID-19," says Rocio Salas-Whalen, MD, of New York Endocrinology. "Due to the pathophysiology of diabetes, patients can take longer to heal, putting them at risk for developing complications from the virus. This is true with any type of infection in diabetes."

Salas-Walen also points to research that has found that excess weight changes the efficacy of the flu shot. Considering that more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight, that could have important repercussions as coronavirus spreads in the States.

It won't diminish in warm temperatures

Woman in the hot sun

Since most associate the regular flu season with the colder months of the year, many assume that COVID-19 will taper off as temperatures rise. But Salas-Whalen emphasizes that it's not as simple as that.

"Unfortunately, the virology of COVID-19 does not diminish in warm temperatures," she says. "Although the virus may have a seasonal cycle, it is not reasonable to expect a huge decline in transmission due to warmer weather alone. We see the largest decrease in infections when people refrain from being in locations with poor ventilation and/or large crowds."

Coronavirus has cousins.

Female doctor doing testing in a lab

According to an article from the Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, which has not yet been peer reviewed, COVID-19 is a variant of the coronavirus that caused the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003. As a result, its official name is: severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. It's also a relative of the coronavirus Middle East respiratory syndrome, also known as MERS, which surfaced in the Middle East beginning in 2012.

COVID-19 refers to the disease that the virus causes, not the virus itself.

Covid in testing lab

The World Health Organization (WHO) realized that calling the novel virus SARS-CoV-2 might lead to some confusion and anxiety. As Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of WHO, put it in February: "From a risk communications perspective, using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia, which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003."

For that reason, WHO opted to refer to it by the name of the disease it results in—COVID-19—rather than by the name of the virus itself.

Pets can get coronaviruses.

Husky at the vet

Unfortunately, cats and dogs are able to contract coronaviruses—sometimes with deadly consequences. A 2011 study in the journal Advances in Virology discusses how what's called pantropic canine coronavirus can infect cats and dogs. And a virus known as feline infectious peritonitis can cause cats to exhibit flu-like symptoms or even organ failure.

At the beginning of March, it was confirmed that a dog in Hong Kong contracted coronavirus from his owner. "There are strains of coronavirus that do affect dogs, typically puppies," Christie Long, DVM, the head of veterinary medicine at Modern Animal in Los Angeles, previously told Best Life. "As coronaviruses themselves are capable of rapid mutation, we are always on the lookout for evidence of disease caused by new strains of this virus."

Previous pandemics were far worse than COVID-19.

Man in hospital bed talking to doctor

Things are likely just getting started with coronavirus and while there is reason to expect many more people will be infected and die from the virus, compared to previous pandemics, it looks slightly less frightening. More than 5,000 people have died as of the time this article was published—a terrible toll, to be sure. But it pales in comparison to the 1957 H2N2 flu, which killed 1.1 million people (0.04 percent of the global population at the time), or the 1918 Spanish flu (responsible for the death of 50 million people), or the black death, which killed 75 million people (almost 17 percent of the global population at the time).

It's less infectious than airborne viruses, like measles.

Woman sneezing or coughing into her elbow

COVID-19 is incredibly contagious. But it's not as contagious as airborne viruses, such as tuberculosis or measles. "It is an infectious disease, which is most likely spread via droplet transmission. This means that it requires large droplets containing particles of the virus to infect a new host," explains Taylor Graber, MD, a resident anesthesiologist at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

"That means that overall it is less infectious than an airborne transmission virus or bacteria, such as measles or tuberculosis. For these other pathogens, it is much easier for them to become aerosolized in the air," Graber notes. "The more that they are in the air, the more infectious they become, since they can infect more patients more quickly. Initial studies have suggested that COVID-19 is not spread via the aerosolized route."

Twenty seconds of hand-washing may not be enough.

Washing hands

You probably thought you were pretty hygienic—always careful to wash your hands after using the bathroom and usually before you had something to eat. But as numerous health officials have reminded us since coronavirus really started to spread, there's a difference between quickly running your hands under the tap and really giving them a scrub. And though 20 seconds has been the recommended amount of time to spend scrubbing, even that may not be enough.

"Be diligent about washing hands appropriately: for 20 to 30 seconds with soap, under warm running water," Graber recommends. Try timing yourself with some of these helpful memes.

Face masks don't offer much protection from COVID-19.

People in London wearing face masks to protect themselves against coronavirus

Because coronavirus is transmitted via droplets, personal protective equipment, such as face masks, are not particularly effective at preventing transmission.

"Since the virus is transmitted as droplets, it is currently not recommended to need to use standard face masks or surgical face masks, or N95 masks, as good hand hygiene and washing is sufficient," says Graber.

But removing your shoes is a must.

Parents taking off their children's shoes at the door

While hand-washing is a vital way to reduce one's risk of contracting COVID-19, those aforementioned droplets can also travel from the outside world into your home on the bottom of your shoes. In order to keep your home coronavirus-free, you should remove your shoes when you come inside.

It's barely affected children.

Child on father's shoulders doing muscle arms

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that children 10 and under account for just 1 percent of all COVID-19 cases, while those between the ages of 30 to 79 make up nearly 90 percent. Scientists aren't sure why, but they think the answers may help us defeat COVID-19.

It's going to seriously test our health care system

Hospital hallway

As coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S., the strain it will put on the country's health care system is increasingly apparent. As The New York Times reports:

Our country has only 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. That's fewer than in Italy (3.2), China (4.3), and South Korea (12.3), all of which have had struggles. … It's estimated that we have about 45,000 intensive care unit beds in the United States. In a moderate outbreak, about 200,000 Americans would need one.

Yes, that means less than 25 percent of Americans infected with coronavirus could receive care from hospitals. Of course, it's early to predict, but the numbers speak for themselves.

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