The novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019 is now spreading extensively throughout communities in the United States and has reached global pandemic status. We’ve collected some of the latest news and findings on COVID-19 to inform your decisions during this time.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. You can read more about the virus and what we know about its origins here. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, and a dry cough. Symptoms are mild in the vast majority of cases, and the virus may spread even with no noticeable symptoms present. But for some patients—especially those over the age of 60 and/or with underlying health problems—the virus can lead to deadly pneumonia.

Should I be staying at home to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19?

The short answer is yes: Everyone who is able to do so should be practicing “social distancing”to limit the spread of COVID-19 and “flatten the curve.” Ideally, one should stay at least six feet away from all other people, but maintaining contact with your family members is okay as long as you’re all doing your best to avoid getting close to people outside the household. Even if you don’t have symptoms at all, spending as much time as possible in isolation means you’re lowering the risk that you will spread COVID-19 to someone vulnerable. Implementing preventative, social-distancing measures will reduce the number of people who are sick at one time. Without measures, many people get sick all at once, leading to a tall, narrow curve. With these social-distancing measures, you can flatten the curve—just as many people may get sick overall, but they’ll be spread out over time. For a healthcare system, especially an overwhelmed one, it’s far better to have a million people sick over the course of a year than that same million sick in three months. The Washington Post has an excellent interactive graphic to demonstrate the importance of social distancing, if you don’t understand why it’s important.

How serious is COVID-19 in the United States?

On Tuesday morning, the New York Times reported 4,482 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. There have been at least 86 deaths. Every state but West Virginia has confirmed cases, and Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico have reported positive results as well. It is important to note, however, that testing rates in the US remain too low for health officials to confidently estimate the true number of cases. The United States has been far slower to implement widespread testing than other affected countries. While social distancing will help slow the spread of disease, the World Health Organization argued this week that keeping tabs on accurate case counts is a crucial component to such a strategy. “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing on March 16. "You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.”

How serious is COVID-19 globally?

COVID-19 has infected more than 180,000 people worldwide since December and killed more than 7,300. While cases have slowed down dramatically in China, Italy is now on complete lockdown and facing serious hospital shortages, with a staggering 28,000 cases that continue to rise. Iran has nearly 15,000 cases and Spain has more than 11,000. South Korea has more than 8,000 cases, though widespread testing seems to have minimized deaths, and case numbers are now dropping. France and Germany each have more than 6,000 confirmed cases. There is evidence of COVID-19 on every continent except for Antarctica.

How can we prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Proper hand washing (instructions here) is still the best defense we have against a disease like COVID-19. While hand sanitizer is less effective, it’s a good substitute in a pinch—here’s a DIY recipe if your local stores are sold out. It is also important to practice social distancing if you are able, and to be diligent about washing your hands if you have to go out and interact with people. Do not go out to bars or restaurants; ordering takeout (or, even better, delivery left at your front door) is the best way to get food from your favorite local business. Written by Rachel Feltman for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to
The latest on COVID-19, from social-distancing to US cases