What is social distancing and why is it important?
Social distancing is a combination of behaviors and actions intended to slow down the spread of a contagious disease. These actions may include the closure of schools, workplaces and recreational sites, the quarantining of people known or suspected of having the disease, the isolation of people not yet infected, limits on social gatherings with many people, limits on behavior that could spread the infection, and limits on the use of mass transit. They also include personal behaviors that limit the spread of the disease, such as hand-washing, covering of coughs and sneezes, and sanitization of surfaces. These behaviors are effective when widely and stringently applied, as for the flu in 1918 and 2004-2008, Ebola in 1995, SARS in 2003, and other events.
Slowing down the rate at which new cases occur is known as "flattening the curve" (see image). The result is less chance of an early peak in the number of cases, which could swamp the available medical resources, as seen in Italy and Spain. It also allows for more time to develop a vaccine and treatment.
Social distancing is most effective if everyone participates. The recommendations for coronavirus prevention still apply.
New: simulations of social distancing - interactive visualizations.
- Known cases: 1061 people in Southeast Texas have been diagnosed (including cases detected by testing). List is here.
- Information sheets: Available in Spanish Vietnamese Chinese Korean Farsi Arabic
The Texas Department of State Health Services has set up an information hotline at 1-877-570-9779, Mon-Fri 7am - 6pm.
The Houston Health Department has set up a call center at 832-393-4220, Mon-Fri 9am - 7pm, Sat 9am - 3pm.
- Free disinfectant is available to residents of Fort Bend County who need it.
- The following states have reopened their state insurance marketplaces for a limited time so that uninsured residents may apply (online) for health insurance that will include care for Covid-19: Colorado Connecticut Maryland Massachusetts Minnesota Nevada New York Rhode Island Vermont Washington Ongoing enrollment continues for residents of: California District of Columbia Texas has a federally-facilitated health insurance marketplace, rather than a state-supported one, and there is no news (yet) about reopening it.
- Harris County has released a self-assessment algorithm to check whether you should or should not be tested for the virus. After you have answered the questions, you will receive instructions for what to do next.
- What can I and can't I do under the Stay Home - Work Safe order?
NEW: The Stay Home/ Work Safe order will be extended beyond 3 April, but it's not clear until when.
It can be hard to study when you have a significant other or child(ren) at home too. Here are some things the adults around you can do while you are studying.
- Join you as a student: 450 courses you can take online for free
- Get a temporary job: Local chain stores are hiring lots of warehouse workers, shelf stockers, and pharmacy workers. Links to applications for Randall's, Kroger, Walmart, and Fiesta, as well as some other businesses, are here. Update: HEB is no longer taking applications.
- Exercise: You do not need to stay inside 24/7 while quarantined. Go for a run or walk the dog; just keep your distance from others. 14-day exercise plan. Home body-weight exercise tips. Stairs with Rachel (start of a series). NEW: No equipment stretch workout
- Reach out to others: Four ways to help prevent loneliness while you’re social distancing.
- Trim the cost of your internet access: Internet for low-income customers at reduced price 1. Comcast 2. AT&T And don't worry about data limits: Internet providers remove data caps, some late fees, for 60 days.
- Catch up on sports - a lot of games can now be watched for free.
- Donate blood. The Red Cross has had to cancel blood drives, but still needs donations for all the people already in the hospital.
- Dance with DJ DNice at Club Quarantine
New: Suggestions for parents who are becoming home-school teachers
You don't need to home-school your school-age kids if their schools have made a plan for distance learning. Your main challenge will be to help them make a schedule and keep to it. Here are some other ideas to keep them interested between lessons.
Zoo-cam: The Houston zoo takes the cheetah for a walk and gives the elephant a bath - all on camera! Have the kids write a report after watching. Other animal-cams: Koala cam Bald eagle cam Backyard cam Giraffe cam Aquarium cam NEW: Home Safari at the Cincinnati Zoo: daily webcast with "quiz" afterward (live on zoo FB page)
Use imagination: Color outside the lines! Sample pages here. (Find similar books by searching for Uncoloring or Anti-coloring.) Free dragon coloring book
Combine exercise with stories: Cosmic Kids Yoga
Burn off energy: Get Movin' Ridiculously Fun Dance!
Talk online with friends about homework: BrainFuse via Houston Public Library (use Meet under Collaborate column)
Educational supplements: At-Home Learning Tie-ins to favorite public TV science, nature, and history shows NEW: Scholastic has put up a Learn At Home website for grades preK - 9
Repeat a great science experiment: How Germs Spread
Draw a chalk maze on your driveway.
Cook an easy meal together. NEW: Bake easy banana bread.
Attend KHOU Weather School.
Donate pet food to the Houston SPCA.
Go on a scavenger hunt - find something in your home that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Then see what your friends found.
Practice your musical instruments outside, like the Parker Elementary Quarantunes flash mob
Listen to stories - stream for free (includes stories in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Japanese!)
Keep a diary or journal about being in quarantine. Don't know what to write? Get a journal with prompts (example).
The public libraries are closed, but the internet libraries are open. Read a classic. Or read science fiction. Or read a young adult novel (see caveat above list). Or listen to an audiobook. More audiobooks in English and other languages, available to stream for free.
Go for a bike ride in your neighborhood and count how many different kinds of birds you see.
Help a neighbor with chores or shopping (just stay 6' away).
Listen to Alex Bregman's and Carlos Correa's public service announcements.
Finished with online school? Stream movies with friends using Netflix Party.
Bake a cake (EASY recipe - use what you have if you don't have the fancy stuff)
NEW: Take a virtual tour of Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. Pick a work of art and explain how it relates to something you studied in a History class.
For parents: Discuss together that young adults can and do get sick. The rate of recovery is extremely high. But it's no fun, so avoid it if possible.
Really bad (or maybe really awesome) viral pick-up lines: Love In The Time Of Covid-19
A PSA From Max Brooks and Mel Brooks
How to be sure you maintain the correct distance from others
We didn't stop the virus (to the tune of We Didn't Start the Fire)
The toilet paper song (parents: contains two of the milder 4-letter words)
The Louvre Museum in Paris is closed, of course. Here's how the Mona Lisa feels about that.
Of course there's an Internet cat meme about the coronavirus
Here's good summary information in a quick video. Note: contrary to what the video claims, it is still unproven that the pangolin was the intermediate viral host between bats and humans.
Update: Three months into the pandemic, what do we know about the coronavirus?
An excellent way to avoid catching any contagious illness is to wash your hands many times throughout the day. Take 20 seconds to do a good job (sing Happy Birthday to yourself twice for the correct timing). For text instructions, see the Mayo Clinic website. For video instructions, view the BBC video on this webpage.
If you prefer hand sanitizer to soap and water, be sure that your product contains at least 60% alcohol and use it frequently. Ordinary soap and water (antibacterial soap isn't necessary) works just fine for personal hygiene, when you wash hands as described above. When your hands feel dirty or greasy, then soap and water work better than sanitizer; follow up with moisturizer to prevent dry, cracked skin.
And now that your hands are clean, don't grab your dirty phone or you'll have to start all over again. Here's how to sanitize a smartphone.
New: Skeptical that hand-washing can stop the virus in its tracks? Watch this.
Face masks are not recommended for use by healthy people. Hospitals and medical offices are running low on masks, which are vital for safe medical care of sick patients, because healthy people are panicking and buying up the supplies of masks. Face masks should be worn by infected people when they are away from home, so they don't infect healthy people.
Most reputable mask manufacturers are sold out of product, with back orders from medical providers being given preference. Be aware that what you can find on Amazon or other public sources may not be worth your money.
So what to do instead? If you cough or sneeze, please use a tissue or your elbow to block respiratory droplets from making contact with other people or surfaces around you. Then dispose of the tissue in the nearest trashcan.
A research article showed that we touch our faces with our hands more often than we realize. This is important if you have a respiratory illness, because your dirty hands can pass the germs to your eyes, nose, or mouth - essentially reinfecting yourself. The media enjoyed being able to tell their viewers/readers to Stop Touching Your Face. Here are some examples:
‘Don’t touch your face,’ warn public officials seconds before touching their faces
How to stop touching your face
Hey, all you face-touchers out there, in an age of coronavirus — just stop!
Henry the Hand
At this time, there is no vaccine that confers immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Work toward a vaccine is being done by commercial companies including CureVac in Germany, Inovio, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Sanofi in France. Researchers at the University of Washington are trying to construct a biosynthetic vaccine. Once a preliminary vaccine is available, it must go through animal and human testing before being made available to the public. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, predicts that it will be "at least a year" before a vaccine will be widely available. Of the money recently approved by Congress for use against the coronavirus, more than $3 billion will be available to develop a vaccine, treatments, and diagnostic tests; an additional $300 million is earmarked for the government to use to buy and distribute the vaccine at a "fair and reasonable" price.
Vaccines against the flu or pneumonia will not protect against SARS-CoV-2. Each virus has a different genetic code and requires a tailor-made vaccine.
UTMB in Galveston is working on coronavirus research that may help with building a vaccine.
NEW: Why it takes so long to develop a vaccine (see first table for a continually updated list of vaccines in development)
- At the moment, the only available therapy is supportive (fluids, OTC pain relievers, breathing assistance if needed). Gilead Sciences, a California drug company, makes a promising antiviral drug called remdesivir that has shown some effect against coronaviruses in animal studies. Clinical (human) trials have started recently. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced that it will grant $125 million in research funds to drug companies for testing of experimental drugs to treat Covid-19.
- The FDA has warned against using some non-pharmaceutical products which falsely claimed to protect from or kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as they do not have any effect on the virus and in some cases could harm your health.
- These articles describe the difficulty of trying to find a treatment during an epidemic; the treatments tried include Lopinavir Hydroxychloroquine nonclinical clinical Remdesivir for Covid-19 for MERS update on Remdesivir
- Researchers announced that a well-known blood thinner may protect people with severe Covid-19 from respiratory problems caused by tiny blood clots, and possibly lower the virus-associated mortality.
- There is no evidence that ibuprofen or other NSAIDs (acetaminophen/Tylenol, aspirin, or cortisone) can make a case of coronavirus more severe. However, people who have kidney problems should not use NSAIDs because of the risk of complications. So just out of caution, people with Covid-19 should avoid using NSAIDs in case they might be prone to kidney issues. The exception is if a sick person is using NSAIDs for pain control and the alternative would be an opioid. Update: No research indicates that ibuprofen causes harm to people with Covid-19, but there is reason for caution.
NEW: Clinical trials of possible Covid-19 treatments have begun on an international and accelerated basis.
Short answer: highly contagious. That's why covering your cough and sneezes really does interrupt the spread of the virus. It can float in air for a short distance, and when it falls onto a surface, it can live there for hours to days. But it is heavier than, for instance, the measles virus, which is so light that it can float through the air for longer distances instead of sinking to the ground or a surface. As a rEW: esult, SARS-Cov-2, though very contagious, does not spread as rapidly as the measles virus. Here is a longer explanation.
NEW: Summary of what is known about SARS-CoV-2 contagion
The coronavirus test uses a technique called RT-PCR, which is a scan for viral RNA that matches the known genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2. Many "public" testing options have limited numbers of test kits, and are prioritizing testing of medical personnel, first responders, and people with symptoms of Covid-19. Beware of do-it-yourself testing kits being marketed by phone, door-to-door, or other non-traditional methods. They are scams. NEW: More about ineffective (fradulent) test kits and treatments.
Why does it take so long to get test results?
More coronavirus parody.