By Sabbithry Persad
As parents attempt to demystify the science around the COVID-19 pandemic for their older children, they can become lost in the reams of information bombarding them. Their ability to decode the virus’ mysterious spread and inform their tweens and teens will empower them to take simple, commonsense precautions that will keep them and others healthy. These explanations and safety tips can help.
Viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names. COVID-19 is the name of the disease and is an acronym for corona (CO), virus (VI), disease (D), year discovered (19). But the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic that’s wreaking havoc on our lives is SARS-CoV-2. It stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), coronavirus 2 (CoV-2), and is the second human SARS virus, genetically closely related to the earlier coronavirus (SARS-CoV) responsible for the outbreak of 2003, although less pathogenic.
Many people refer to SARS-CoV-2 by its biological family name “coronavirus.” But coronaviruses are actually a large family of viruses that mainly cause respiratory diseases in humans and other animals. Their genetic material consists of a single strand of RNA. There are more than 50 viruses in the coronavirus family.
SARS-CoV-2, one of the viruses in the coronavirus family, has a spherical shape covered with spikes, similar to rays around the sun that are called corona. Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is host dependent. It must infect an organism and attach to and live inside the cells of other organisms in order to survive for very long.
To beat this pandemic, we need to understand the ways in which the virus spreads in order to prevent it and any adaptations from infecting us and others and proliferating, further disrupting our lives. Here’s what we need to know to stop the spread:
1. Beware of spread through the air. SARS-CoV-2 spreads mainly through person-to-person contact via respiratory droplets. Spread can happen when a noninfected person stands within 6 feet of an infected person who speaks, sings, coughs, or sneezes. Large respiratory droplets from the infected person can land on the noninfected person’s mouth, nose or eyes, or be inhaled into the lungs. In some situations, smaller aerosol particles from coughs or sneezes can even travel as far as 26 feet. Additionally, particles can stay in the air for hours after an infected person coughs or sneezes.
2. Take heed of transmission through surface contact. Droplets containing the virus can stay on inanimate objects or “fomites” such as paper or tissue for 3 hours, cardboard surfaces for 24 hours, cloth or wood for 2 days, plastic and stainless steel for 3 days, and glass and paper money for 4 days. If a noninfected person touches a contaminated surface within the time that the virus is still active, the noninfected person might get infected when they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.
3. Know the window for contagion. A person infected with SARS-CoV-2 is most likely contagious from 48 hours before developing symptoms to 3 days after the last symptoms end. If exposed to a person with COVID-19, quarantining for 14 days after contact will lower the likelihood of spreading the disease. Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath or other symptoms and, if they occur, get tested. If the symptoms are in fact COVID-19, let others who you’ve been in contact with know so that they can quarantine, and contact your healthcare provider.
4. Recognize that recurrences can happen. Some people who recover from COVID-19 have immunity to the same strain or variant that may last several months. However, the antibodies in recovered patients are said to be generally low and the person may risk reinfection. In other instances, a person may be infected once with SARS-CoV-2, recover, and later become infected again with a different strain or variant.
5. Engage in measures to inactivate the virus. Most scientists believe that viruses can’t be killed but can only be inactivated. Ways to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus on surfaces are by using soap and disinfectants.
6. Engage in measures to suppress the virus. Our public health agencies and professionals continue to issue information about suppressing the virus. Examples of measures to take include avoiding unnecessary indoor spaces with large groups of people, using a face mask (even if vaccinated), physical distancing, hand washing, testing, vaccinating, covering coughs and sneezes, isolating if infected, postponing travel to high risk areas, enhancing ventilation in closed spaces, conducting contact tracing, and reducing contact with others.
Knowing how COVID-19 spreads allows us to take immediate actions to prevent infection by avoiding, inactivating, and suppressing the virus, and doing our part to control the pandemic, can help communities move toward a speedy, safe return to everyday life.
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Sabbithry Persad is a writer who tackles issues we face in the global community. Persad is the author of the Garbology Kids® waste management series for children, which includes Where Do Recyclable Materials Go?, Operation: Reuse It!, and We Can Reduce: Precycle It! She is the founder of Firewater Media Group and Green Solutions Magazine. Her new book is, What Is Coronavirus? How It Infects, How It Spreads, and How to Stay Safe (Firewater Media Group, Oct. 1, 2021). Learn more at firewatermediagroup.com.