What is a coronavirus and COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses known to cause respiratory infections. These can range from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

This new coronavirus has been named SARS-COV-2 due to its similarity to the original SARS virus (but with notable differences). First identified in Wuhan, China, this virus causes Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19) symptoms of which are cough, fever, shortness of breath, severe pneumonia, and acute respiratory distress. Currently the virus has affected more than 150 countries worldwide.

How is COVID-19 spread?

The evidence suggests spread from person-to-person via large droplets and micro-droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or even breathes. If these droplets come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth of another person, or directly or indirectly through hands that have come into contact with these droplets, the other person may become infected.

Should I wear a face mask?

You do not need to wear a mask if you are healthy. While the use of masks can help to prevent transmission of disease from infected patients to others, masks are not currently recommended for use by healthy members of the public for the prevention of infections such as COVID-19.

UPDATE April 4, 2020: Given the prevalence of community spread of COVID-19 as well as likelihood of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, current recommendations such as those of US CDC are shifting toward wearing face covers (even just handmade and cloth masks) whenever outside the home to slow the spread of the virus.

How can we help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Practising good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene and keeping your distance from others when you are sick is the best defence against most viruses.

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet. In the absence of soap and water, you may use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser (at least 60% alcohol solution).
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue or flexed elbow. Dispose of tissues properly and wash your hands.
  • If unwell, avoid contact with others (stay more than 1.5 metres from people).
  • Exercise personal responsibility for social distancing measures.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is one way to help slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. This includes staying at home when you are unwell and keeping a distance of 1.5 metres between you and other people whenever possible.

It is important to minimise physical contact especially with people at higher risk of developing serious symptoms, such as older people and people with existing health conditions.

In the context of endurance sport and racing, that means races and events taking place within the next two to three months are advised to be cancelled or postponed in order to avoid potentially exposing large numbers of people to the virus.

Individual countries and jurisdictions have begun to implement their strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their populations. Some athletes may be able to continue daily training routine with some modifications (no group runs or rides, for instance). Other athletes may be completely homebound due to more aggressive mitigation strategies.

Whichever strategy is in place in your locale, taking these social distancing precautions can help protect the people in your community who are most at risk. While endurance athletes are generally of good health and may experience zero to mild symptoms as our bodies fight off the virus, we may inadvertently expose more vulnerable people to it.

If your local authorities advise you to stay at home, here are ways you can continue to train indoors.

Who is most at risk of a serious illness?

Some people who are infected may not get sick at all, some will get mild symptoms from which they will recover easily, and others may become very ill, very quickly.

(About 20% of cases develop severe symptoms, such as pneumonia requiring ventilators. The percentage of deaths due to COVID-19 stands at around 3-4% globally, although the likelihood rises five-fold in people above the age of 85.)

From previous experience with other coronaviruses, the people at most risk of serious infection are:

  • people with compromised immune systems (i.e. cancer, transplant receivers)
  • elderly people
  • people with diagnosed chronic medical conditions (i.e. asthma)
  • very young children and babies*
  • people in group residential settings
  • people in detention facilities

*At this stage the risk to children and babies, and the role children play in the transmission of COVID-19, is not clear. However, there has so far been a low rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases among children, relative to the broader population.

How is COVID-19 treated?

There is no specific treatment for coronaviruses. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no proven specific treatment or anti-viral drug for COVID-19 is currently available. Most of the symptoms can be treated with supportive medical care, provided based on the patient’s clinical condition.

For many countries, high numbers of COVID-19 patients risk overwhelming hospital facilities, in which case those with mild symptoms are told to self-isolate and recuperate at home.

Self-isolating at home means you:

  • do not go to public places such as work, school, shopping centres, childcare or university
  • ask someone to get food and other necessities for you and leave them at your front door
  • do not let visitors in — only people who usually live with you should be in your home
  • if you reside with family members, you should stay in a separate room and your caregiver must don personal protective equipment (surgical face mask, gloves, gown) when caring for you, then dispose safely of the PPE and wash hands and take other sanitary measures to reduce risk of transmission to other household members. Do not share glasses and utensils.

You do not need to wear a mask in your home. If you need to go out to seek medical attention, wear a surgical mask to protect others.

What do I do if I develop symptoms?

If you develop symptoms (fever, a cough, sore throat, tiredness or shortness of breath) within 14 days of travel from affected areas or within 14 days of last contact of a confirmed case, you should arrange to see your doctor for urgent assessment.

You should telephone the health clinic or hospital before you arrive and tell them your travel history or that you may have been in contact with a potential case of COVID-19.

You must remain isolated either in your home, hotel or a health care setting until public health authorities inform you it is safe for you to return to your usual activities.

For further information, please refer and defer to your country’s public health authorities.

Much information in this document is sourced from:

Header photo by Pille-Riin Priske on Unsplash