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What COVID-19 is – and what it isn’t

By Emma Volk, Rania Hassan and Mark Hoffmann (Small Fruits Research Group)

Background information

The situation surrounding COVID-19 evolves from day to day, and hour to hour.  It can be confusing to sort through the many information and to select facts from misinformation. COVID-19 is an illness that induces cough, fever, tiredness, and shortness of breath, and it can lead to death. It is a new disease, and currently there is no cure for COVID-19. While true COVID-19 infections rates can’t be determined due to a lack of testing capacities, hospitalization rates and death rates can be determined more accurately at the moment

Especially essential workers (such as farm workers) are at risk. It is absolutely critical to understand what COVID-19 is and what it isn’t to protect the ones who work and the ones you love. If you have a farm, you might find this checklist of essential steps interesting.  Here we take a step back and try to understand what COVID-19 is – and what it isn’t.

What does COVID-19 stand for?

A misconception is that COVID-19 would stand for CoronaVirus Disease Number 19. That is not true! COVID-19 actually stands for ‘CoronaVirus Disease 2019. COVID-19 refers to a disease caused by a novel coronavirus. This virus is called SARS-CoV-2, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus 2. SARS-CoV-2 is closely related to the virus which caused the smaller SARS pandemic in 2003.


Is COVID-19 like the flu?

All information in this section comes from Johns Hopkins Medicine’s webpage entitled ‘Coronavirus 2019 vs. the Flu’.

Differences between COVID-19 and the flu: 

  • The flu is caused by a slew of influenza viruses while COVID-19 is caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2. 
  • People infected with the flu tend to have an incubation period of 1-4 days, while people infected with COVID-19 can have an incubation period of 1-14 days. An incubation period is the time it takes for someone to experience disease symptoms after they are infected by a virus. 

Similarities between COVID-19 and the flu:

  • Both can cause symptoms such as cough, fever, body aches, and fatigue. In some cases, they can also cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Both can result in pneumonia
  • Both can be transmitted from person to person, through the air, by an infected person talking, sneezing, or coughing. 

Why COVID-19 is more dangerous than the flu:

  • A vaccine for COVID-19 does not exist, while vaccines for the flu do exist.
  • No proven antiviral medications for COVID-19 do exist, while antiviral medications for the flu do exist. It is absolutely dangerous to use any medication that has not undergone clinical testing.
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine stated on their COVID-19 vs. the Flu page that “doctors and scientists are working on estimating the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be higher than that of most strains of the flu.”


How the COVID-19 virus spreads and how it does not.

All information for this section was taken from the CDC’s ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019’ webpage.


We know that COVID-19 can spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. This seems to be the primary avenue to spread the virus. This means that when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, they release droplets into the air that contain SARS-CoV-2. A person nearby can then get infected if those droplets land in their mouth or nose, or if they inhale those droplets into their lungs.

Infected Surfaces

COVID-19 can also spread through contact with infected surfaces. So if a person touches an infected surface then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth without washing their hands, they can become infected. This is not thought to be the primary avenue through which the virus spreads.


Scientists are still trying to determine the relationship between animals, people, and the virus, but it is apparent that the disease can spread from people to animals in some cases. Right now, the risk of pets spreading the disease to humans is believed to be low. To understand more of the nuances surrounding COVID-19 and animals, please see this helpful webpage from the CDC.


Currently, no evidence exists proving that SARS-CoV-2 is foodborne. However, experts do recommend washing produce with water before consuming it and cooking food thoroughly. Do not wash produce with any soaps or detergents as this could be harmful. 


How we can protect ourselves and others – and how we don’t

For complete information on keeping yourself and the people around you safe, please see this webpage from the CDC. But please also keep these simple guidelines in mind:

  • Practice ‘social distancing’. This means keeping a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap can kill the virus.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when you leave the house. That will protect others!!! Continue to maintain distance between yourself and others even when you have a mask on.
  • Prevent your pets from interacting with people outside of your household.


Protection does not occur if you ingest, drink, eat or inject disinfectants (like bleach, alcohol or other household disinfectants). Heavy sun bathing also does not cure the disease.

Everyone has a responsibility to protect others! Even if you think (or know) you don’t have it, be an example for others.


Misguided and dangerous information:

In case of COVID-19, the difference between factual information and misinformation can decide – in the worst case scenario – about life and death of you and the ones you get in contact with. We have shortly listed the most common misguided ideas and theories that are circulating through social media and the internet. Important to understand is that COVID-19 is a viral disease, and it exists! There is no cure, it can be deadly, especially for people with pre-existing conditions. 


Here some things not to do:

  • Fresh Produce: Disinfecting food with bleach, acid, disinfectants or other chemicals is dangerous and does not help to control COVID-19
  • Using non-skin products on your skin is dangerous.
  • Injecting disinfectants into a person will most likely kill that person.
  • There is NO PROVEN CURE. Taking non proven pharmaceuticals (medicine) and nutraceuticals can be dangerous to you and is taking medicine away from those who rely on it.


Here some things we know about COVID-19:

  • COVID-19 can affect all age groups, including people younger than 20 years. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, history of smoking and/or lung diseases, auto-immune diseases and others can increase the risk.
  • There is currently no proof of herd immunity against COVID-19
  • There is currently also no proof that you can’t be infected again, once you had COVID-19


Here are some things that are wrong:

  • 5G Networks are NOT causing COVID-19 nor do they weaken the immune system. Please do not destroy any network towers or throw away your phones. Especially in these times, having access to information is highly important, and network towers and phones can provide vital services if you need them.
  • COVID-19 is not the 19th Coronavirus. COVID-19 is the second SARS Virus discovered (see above).
  • COVID-19 is not a bioengineered disease. Viruses mutate in natural hosts, no bioengineering processes are needed. 
  • COVID-19 is not developed by any kind of world-wide conspiracy. No government or any circle of people is responsible for the development and/or spread of COVID-19



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