Members of the Welch College community have been asking various questions about COVID-19. Dr. Ian Hawkins, who leads the natural science programs at Welch, answers some of them below.

What is COVID-19 and Coronaviruses?
Scientists have known about coronaviruses for quite some time. This group of viruses has mostly caused minor colds in individuals. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was the first-known coronavirus to become a significant health concern, which led to a renewed interest in understanding coronaviruses. MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) was another coronavirus that enhanced the understanding of these viruses. Mostly, these viruses have been confined to different animals, but, in the cases of SARS, MERS, and now COVID-19, they have accumulated mutations and began infecting the human population.

What are the Symptoms of COVID-19?
Healthcare workers are looking for three main symptoms: fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Many patients who have coronavirus also experience chills, headaches, body aches, and sore throats; however, these are not the symptoms that healthcare workers would use to warrant testing someone. As testing becomes more widespread, more individuals with fewer symptoms will be tested.

What Should We Do in This Pandemic?
Stay calm and do the things that you can do such as: wash your hands regularly, keep away from people outside your family, stay away from crowds, keep your hands away from your face as much as possible, and clean surfaces that are touched often. These are the best preventative measures. Also, continue to reach out to those in need and to your friends and family. Still, maintain social interaction, even with the restrictions on face-to-face meetings.

When Should You Quarantine Yourself?
If you know you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive, or you have tested yourself and are awaiting results, then you need to quarantine yourself away from everybody for fourteen days. This course of action will prevent you from spreading the virus if you have it or have been exposed to it. If you have been exposed to it, symptoms may take up to fourteen days before appearing; consequently, you do not want to infect other people accidentally.

What Should You Do if You Test Positive for the Virus?
Individuals who have tested positive should stay quarantined and away from other family members if they are living in the house with you. You should have a separate room and preferably a separate bath. Your healthcare provider should continually keep in touch with you, probably once or twice a day, and monitor your situation to determine if hospitalization is necessary. If your breathing gets worse to the point that you are having difficulty getting out of bed, then they would probably advise you to seek hospitalization. Your healthcare provider will keep you informed and monitor your condition to advise you on whether that is necessary.

Why are We Taking This Virus So Seriously When We Usually Do Not Do This for Other Flu Viruses?Healthcare workers are taking this virus more seriously for two main reasons. First, COVID-19 seems very contagious so that one person can infect many people all at once. Secondly, since the virus can spread so rapidly, health care systems will be overwhelmed with patients if measures are not taken to limit the spread. By taking this disease seriously, we can curb the speed of the spread so that our healthcare system can maintain safe and important treatments.

Are There Any Medicines That Can Help Against Coronavirus?
Over the past few weeks, doctors have prescribed certain medications that could be beneficial. They have used chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in many cases, and some of them have shown positive results. Also, a few antiviral drugs, which are either new or were used for other viruses, may also prove helpful. Several other treatments including antibodies from patients who have survived the virus are also being used. The current challenge is that the evidence is inconclusive, and some of these medicines are new and require more extensive testing. Over the next few months, doctors and scientists will be more able to correctly determine the best treatment options we have.

What Should Our Churches Do During This Crisis?
Our local congregations can serve an important role during this pandemic. We need to help people stay calm, and we need to provide emotional support. Churches should maintain social distancing and support the orders of governmental agencies, but that will not mean that churches cannot reach out. We can provide grocery runs and pickups for our older members and place them on their doorsteps. We can increase social interactions through telephone calls, prayer times, and other means that will allow us to keep our distance while still maintaining relationships. These are just a few suggestions, and not only will they help our members during isolation but also will lead to a stronger church body. This time of heartache and uncertainty is also a time when God’s people can demonstrate their faith in Christ, which gives us the peace that others may want, leading to opportunities to share our faith. May God give us peace and courage to help others and be good examples of Christ in these perilous times.

About Dr. Hawkins
Dr. Ian Hawkins serves as Associate Professor of Biology, Chairman of the Department of Arts and Sciences, and coordinator for science programs at Welch College. He holds undergraduate degrees in both biology and biochemistry from East Carolina University, an M.S. in biology from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Middle Tennessee State University. He has served at Welch since 2006.

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For the latest information about coronavirus, visit welch.edu/coronavirus