Nine things experts know now about COVID-19

Scientific understanding about COVID-19 has evolved dramatically over the past few months.

A July 29, 2020 article in Elemental outlined current knowledge about how the coronavirus spreads, how best to combat transmission, and how to treat COVID-19. Harvard T.H. Chan experts quoted in the article included Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and a faculty member of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics (CCDD)William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology and also a CCDD faculty member, and Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health.

Here are nine things about COVID-19 that experts know now, according to the article:

The coronavirus can become airborne. Tiny viral particles can linger in the air and infect people beyond six feet.

Face masks are crucial to help control the pandemic. Grad expressed concern about federal and state officials who have ignored the science surrounding the importance of masks and other social distancing measures. “This most wealthy country in the world is letting [the virus] run rampant,” he said. “It’s baffling to me.”

COVID-19 affects the whole body, not just the lungs. Doctors have learned that the disease can lead to loss of smell, possible brain infections, severe immune system reactions leading to blood clots, heart attacks, and other organ failures.

Younger adults and children can also get seriously ill or die from COVID-19. “No age group gets out of this without risk,” said Hanage.

The virus isn’t seasonal. Rising case numbers in some states in June and July provide “very abundant evidence” that heat “is not going to help the virus go away,” said Hanage.

COVID-19 is much deadlier than the flu. “Per infection, this virus is about five times as dangerous as the flu,” said Hanage.

The virus won’t disappear. The lack of a national plan to combat the virus, and policies in many states that ignored science, have led to a U.S. death toll that has exceeded deaths from any other infectious disease outbreak since the 1918-19 flu pandemic.

People spread the virus without realizing it. People who are asymptomatic or only mildly ill can start clusters of infections.

A vaccine is almost certain. Bloom thinks “absolutely, for sure” a successful vaccine will be developed. “And we will get more than one,” he said.