Make no mistake, we are in the midst of a global health crisis.

Schools and college campuses are closing, major sports teams and leagues are suspending the season and the stock market is in freefall with fears over the spread of a global pandemic and the response (or lack of) by the federal government. With coronavirus – and it’s more serious form, COVID-19 – rapidly affecting the nation and the globe it is important to be educated on the disease, its transmission and, most importantly, how to best protect one’s self amid the outbreak.

The world was first alerted to coronavirus in December when individuals in Wuhan City, China began to fall ill. Although the Chinese government took measures to contain the outbreak, including canceling its New Year celebrations, the virus spread within and beyond its borders. According to WorldOMeter, in China nearly 80,800 were infected with the virus, and of that, 3,169 have died. In Italy, which is under national quarantine and the first case was confirmed on Jan. 31, cases are up to nearly 12,500 and already, 827 are dead.

The United States has surpassed 1,200 cases with the epicenter in Washington state. There 300-plus cases have been reported and the death toll is 26. Here in Minnesota, as of March 12 there are nine known cases of the virus, with one individual, a 30-year-old, in critical condition. The first case in Minnesota was reported on March 6.

What is coronavirus?

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, coronavirus is a large family of viruses estimated to cause about a third of all cases of the common cold. The most common forms can cause mild to moderate illness in people. COVID-19 on the other hand is “a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus that has not been found in people before” and is in the same viral family as the 2004 pandemic, SARS. COVID-19 is far more deadly. According to the World Health Organization, SARS killed 774 people, but an alarming 10 percent of people who contracted the disease.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. According to the Minnesota Department of Health (DOH), some patients have had other symptoms including muscle aches, headache, sore throat, or diarrhea.

“Based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of other coronaviruses, CDC believes that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear two to 14 days after exposure,” reads the DOH webpage on the virus. “Symptoms are similar to other respiratory illnesses that are circulating, such as influenza, so experiencing these symptoms alone does not necessarily mean you need to be tested for COVID-19. Additional criteria will help your health care provider decide if you should be tested, such as if you have history of recent travel (within past 14 days) from an affected geographic area, if you had close contact with any person who is a lab-confirmed patient within the past 14 days of symptom onset or if you are hospitalized with something like acute respiratory illness or pneumonia without another explanation (e.g., influenza)." 

Coronavirus, a person-to-person virus, is spreading rapidly. According to the CDC it is spread between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

The CDC is recommending common sense practices to halt the transmission of the virus. They suggest you wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Can Black people contract coronavirus?

A common myth being propagated on social media is that Black people are less susceptible or immune to coronavirus. As evidenced by the announcement that the Utah Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell have both tested positive for the disease, Black people are not immune to coronavirus. 

While the cases are notably low in Africa, scientists theorize two possible reasons. One, the climate. It is not yet known how well the virus sustains itself in warm weather, but that could play a role. The other possible reason for the lack of transmission in Africa is the many nations of the continent were prepared to stave off the disease.   

As of March 12, there were just about 100 coronavirus cases in all of Africa – 200 less than Washington state alone. Fifty-nine are concentrated in Egypt, most among passengers and crew members aboard a Nile cruise ship coming from southern city of Aswan to Luxor, according to an Egyptian state-run news source. 

Having learned lessons from the Ebola outbreak of 2014, according to CNN, in Lagos, Nigeria, temperature screenings and use of hand sanitizers before entering public spaces such as banks, offices and restaurants are becoming mandatory to limit the spread of the disease. In the same report it is noted that hand washing stations have been set-up at bus terminals throughout Rwanda. 

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends if you are feeling symptomatic to self quarantine.

“Staying home when sick is a fundamental ‘stop the spread’ tip that can be particularly difficult to follow, either because people have no sick leave or they feel otherwise compelled to show up and tough it out,” said DOH on its coronavirus webpage. “During an outbreak, we strongly encourage employees to reconsider going to work when sick. Staying home when sick protects not only other individual employees but also the larger workforce of an organization. One sick employee staying home may be an inconvenience, but an entire team of sick employees can become a far greater problem for the entire organization or business.”

For more information, please visit the Minnesota Department of Health at

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