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Understanding Coronavirus and COVID-19

Below you will find what we believe to be reliable sources of information about the coronavirus that is causing COVID-19.
Please note that we are not experts, and we are not giving advice. We are merely passing on what we have learned in simple English.

What is coronavirus?
It is a virus. A virus is a tiny, tiny germ. (See images below.) It is about 50 thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair. A virus needs to enter a cell to replicate itself. The coronavirus infects a person when they breathe it in. It has spikes on its surface. The spikes penetrate a cell in the throat or lung and force the cell to make copies of the virus. Then, when the person coughs or sneezes, many copies of the virus escape. They float through the air or ride on the hands of the person to infect someone else. 

There are many kinds of coronavirus. Many are harmless or cause ordinary colds. However, the one called “SARS-CoV-2” (short for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus 2”) is dangerous. It causes a disease that kills some people. This coronavirus is very skillful at spreading itself, so it has quickly made itself at home all over the world.

What is Covid-19?
   The SARS-CoV-2 virus causes a disease. The disease is called Covid-19. The name comes from “coronavirus disease of 2019.” Covid-19 is a respiratory disease. In some people it causes severe breathing difficulties, which can lead to death.

What are the symptoms of Covid-19?
   The disease appears to affect people in different ways. In some people symptoms appear in two days, in some people it takes 14 days after infection for symptoms to appear, and in some people symptoms never appear.

    The most common symptoms are:

> Cough

> Breathing difficulty

> Fever

Some people also get:

> Chills

> Repeated shaking with chills

> Muscle pain

> Headache

> Sore throat

> Loss of ability to taste or smell

> Blue lips

How does the virus pass from one person to another?
There are two main ways: by air or by touch. The coronavirus can float on droplets from a person’s breath, when they talk loudly, sneeze, or cough. The virus can float about 6 feet (two meters). If you breathe in a droplet containing virus, you may get Covid-19. This is why we are staying 6 feet or more away from other people.

  Another way is by touch. This can be direct or indirect. If an infected person touches an object they may place the virus on it. Then another person touches the object and gets the virus on their hands. If their hands then touch their face, they may become infected. Some experts say the virus can survive on hard surfaces, such as a coin, a doorknob, or maybe a credit card, for several days. This is why we are washing our hands often.

To see the latest city-county health directives, click here and then, at the city site, scroll down:

How can I get tested for this coronavirus?
   There is drive-through testing available at several locations by appointment. Due to a shortage of testing kits, only people who fit priority criteria can be tested. Priority includes having some of the symptoms of Covid-19. Nebraska has created a testing entry system online:  If you think you may have those symptoms, go to that site and follow directions. If you need help accessing care, contact the Lancaster County Health Department at 402-441-8006. Do not go to the emergency room unless it is essential.

What should I do if I think I have the disease but I have not been tested?
    Health authorities advise that anyone who thinks they may have Covid-19 should quarantine themselves until they can be tested, or for 14 days. This means no physical contact with anyone, no coming closer than 6 feet (2 meters), and no passing any objects between people. (Use tissue to handle a potentially infected object, then disinfect it and wash your hands.)

How widespread is the virus?
   It is nearly everywhere that people live. According to Worldometer, the coronavirus is known to be in 212 countries. That is why this is called a pandemic: “pan” for “everywhere” and “demic” meaning “among people.” 

  However, most people have not yet been exposed to the virus. The largest number of known cases in any country is here in the U.S.: As of May 6, there are more than 1.2 million known cases of Covid-19. The actual number of people carrying the virus is larger but unknown, but of about 330 million people in the U.S., somewhere between 70% and 97% have not yet been exposed to the coronavirus.

How severe is the threat?
   Most people who get the virus survive. But many people have died from Covid-19 already. As of May 6, about 260,000 people around the world have died from the disease. In the U.S. Covid-19 has been the No. 1 cause of death for most of the spring. As of May 6, It has killed more than 72,000 people in the U.S. That is more than have died in any other epidemic since the 1918 H1N1 flu. It is also higher than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

   The actual death rate per infection remains unclear, due to a shortage of testing. Experts say the infection fatality rate is probably around 0.5%, plus or minus 0.25. That means less than 1 death in 100 infections. That’s a small percentage, but it results in a large number if they happen all at once. It’s also clear that older people and people with conditions such as diabetes or a history of lung trouble are a much greater risk of dying from Covid-19. 

What treatment is available?
   Prevention is the best treatment. This is a new disease. The name COVID-19  refers to its discovery in 2019. Although there is some evidence that some medicines may help, there is no proven treatment and no vaccine. Do not buy a "coronavirus medicine" or vaccine online. They are fake. They will not help, and they might harm you.

How do we prevent spreading or catching the disease?
    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department , and other medical authorities, you should  take following steps to reduce the spread of any respiratory virus:

> Stay at home as much as possible.

> If you go out, wear a mask when indoors. An ordinary mask will not prevent you from catching the virus, but it may help stop the spread. It may also help keep you from touching your face. That’s important. The coronavirus infects people through their eyes, nose, and mouth.

> Avoid close contact with sick people.

> While sick, stay home and limit contact with others as much as possible.

> When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with tissue if possible. Throw the tissue into a waste can afterwards.

> If using a tissue is not possible, cover your mouth and nose with the elbow of your sleeve.

> Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

> Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.

> Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

> If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. It must have at least 60 percent alcohol.

> Use tissue to pick up or handle objects that other people have touched.

Additionally, some authorities recommend that we stop shaking hands to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Since handshaking is not a universal cultural practice, and since it can add to the spread of disease, we recommend a friendly wave instead. If you cannot stop shaking hands without causing offence to others, we recommend that you wash your hands soon after. If you cannot do that, use hand sanitizer after shaking hands.

Why isn't everyone wearing a face mask?
Ordinary face masks may not be effective in preventing viruses from entering our lungs. That's because viruses are so small. Using an ordinary face mask may be like trying to stop a mosquito with a tennis racket or a chain link fence. Medical-grade face masks require training to be effective, and should be reserved for medical personnel treating infected persons, or in some cases those providing home care. However, wearing a mask in an indoor space (outside your home) is recommended. It can slow the silent spread of coronavirus from people who may be infected but have no symptoms. It can also prevent you from touching your face when you're in a risky environment. Outdoors, when you're at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people, according to Dr. Bob Rauner, you probably don't have to wear a face mask. 

To see a video of the U.S. Surgeon General showing an easy way to make a face mask, click here:

What is Lincoln Literacy doing in response to the spread of COVID-19?
  Our Classes, Offices, and Public Operations Are Temporarily Closed.
     With regret, we have suspended all in-person activities for an indefinite period. It is likely to last months. As of May 6, we are planning to resume in-person classes in the week of August 31. However, we are offering online classes, What'sApp circles, and 1-1 tutoring by phone and email. See the front page of our website for a link to learning opportunities:

Where can I get help with life during the pandemic?
Download the free MyLNK app onto your phone. It has up-to-date information on services. Lincoln Literacy is also providing information in many languages on our other pages. To see the pages on emergency services, how to stay in touch, how to live well at home, and how to deal with money matters and look for jobs, click this link:

 You can also send any question to us by email at

Is it dangerous to be around Asian people?
No. Asians are no more likely to catch or spread the disease than any other human being, as the CDC confirms. Although the outbreak began in China, it is now spreading more rapidly in Europe and other parts of the world. In China, fewer than one in a million people has a confirmed case of COVID-19, and elsewhere it remains rare. The danger of infection comes from close contact with anyone, regardless of origin, who has the virus, or by touching a surface that someone with the virus has touched.

Did China create this virus as a bioweapon?
 Experts with relevant training say no. Some political appointees say yes. Here's a link to the scientific view:

How can I check out other rumors? 
One way is to check multiple news organizations online. Real news organizations have reporters and editors that check facts before publishing them. Usually, a real or genuine story will be reported by more than one reputable news source. You can also visit this site, which regularly does fact-checking: 

External Information Links (linkage does not signify endorsement):

Information for the Public from the World Health Organization (WHO)

Information on COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Information from the CDC in other languages (Spanish, Russian, Farsi, Arabic, Vietnamese, and more)

Information on COVID-19 in Nebraska from the Ne. Dept. of Health and Human Services

Information on COVID-19 from the City of Lincoln

How Fast Is the Virus Spreading? This site tracks states above or below a 1:1 rate of spread.

Latest Global Stats: A Frequently Updated Global Dashboard from Johns Hopkins University

The Pandemic in Statistics and Graphs, regularly updated, by Worldometer

Video: "How to protect yourself against COVID-19"

Mythbusters: WHO puts rumors to rest

Univ. of Nebraska Medical Center Coronavirus Updates

Univ. of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy

Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus

Helping Children Cope with Fears about Coronavirus

Stop touching my face? Why the easiest way to prevent coronavirus is so hard.

Video: Local medical perspective and advice from Dr. Bob Rauner.

What does the virus do inside a human body? An illustrated guide.

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