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Straight Talk about the Coronavirus

Straight Talk intro  |   FAQs  |   What to do if you are sick  |   COVID-19 Resources

What to Do if You Are Sick with COVID-19

The current Coronavirus crisis has changed our society faster than any other single occurrence in our history. To help prevent the spread of this disease, we are being asked to drastically change the way we live, work, study, shop, and socialize. Most people's jobs have been affected; schools are closed, and more businesses closing daily. So where do you go for information?

Network news panders to the 24/7 news cycle and to its advertisers, using fear to keep you coming back (or to keep you glued to your screen, headphones, or smart speaker). Cable news is almost as bad, sensationalizing stories to keep ratings. Presidential press conferences provide more disinformation than information. And these days, the political environment is so polarized that everyone has their preferred news sources and increasingly calls other sources "fake news."

Our advice is to use a combination of sources, including local and national news and resources, including the CDC website,, National Public Radio, and your preferred local news station.

This website is assembled by volunteers, not professionals. As such, it is not often updated, so we are not encouraging you to use this as a primary source of information. However, we do have some useful information to share with you.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Just what is COVID-19?

A: COVID-19 is the abbreviated name for Novel Coronovirus 2019, the outbreak of a new strain of viral respiratory illness. This new strain was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019 (thus the name COVID-19).    (Go to Top of FAQs)

Q: Why is this disease called the Coronavirus?

A:The word "corona" is Latin for crown. The spikes on the surface of the coronavirus suggest a crown-like appearance.

The following image (and all images in the linked article) are from the Rocky Mountain Labs of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Scanning EM
This image of the virus is from a transmission electron microscope.

For more images, see NPR article What New Coronavirus Looks Like Under The Microscope, February 13, 2020.

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Q: Am I required to wear a face covering in public spaces in Fairfax County?

A: You are. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that face coverings will now be required when people are inside public spaces, effective Friday, May 29. See Executive Order 63 for 2020. This order is intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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Q: Are there other types of Coronavirus?

A: There are 7 coronaviruses known to affect humans, most of which are not very harmful. They all cause upper respiratory infections (coughing, sneezing), and some cause fever.

But there are three very serious coronavirus strains: Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS - emerged in 2012), severe acute respiratory syndrome, (SARS-CoV - emerged in 2002), and now Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). (Read more.)    (Go to Top of FAQs)

Q: What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic, and which is COVID-19?

A: An epidemic is an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly, and affects many individuals at the same time. The word pandemic is based on the root prefix "pan," derived from the Greek, which means "all." Thus, a pandemic is the widest-ranging outbreak of a disease... essentially, an epidemic with an even greater range. A pandemic occurs over a wide geographic area, and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.

(The World Health Organization (WHO) delcared this outbreak to be a pandemic on March 11, 2020.    (Go to Top of FAQs)

Q: What does "flatten the curve" mean and why are we trying to flatten it?

A: When new cases of COVID-19 were first reported, they trickled in slowly, but as the virus spread, the number of new cases grew at an increasingly larger rate.

An exponent refers to the number of times a number is multiplied by itself. For example, 2 to the 3rd power (or 2 to the power of 3), is written like this: 23, and means: 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. In this example, 3 is the exponent - it represents the number of times you are multiplying the product of 2 times itself (three times).

When you multiply the product of two times itself one more time (from 3 to 4), this is represented as 24 (two to the fourth power). Notice how quickly the actual value grows (from 8 to 16) even when you increase the exponent by only one power. You are witnessing exponential growth: when the rate of growth increases to a higher power.

When numbers with exponential growth are graphed, they appear as a parabolic curve. Here is an example of the exponential curve of new COVID-19 cases over time:

increasing cases

Source: "Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to "flatten the curve" by Harry Stevens, March 14, 2020, Washington Post.

If the number of cases doubles every three days, the US would have about a hundred million cases by May. Thus, restrictions nationwide, public closure of businesses, and social distancing are put into effect.

The goal of social distancing is to isolate people to reduce the exponential growth of new cases. Graphically, when the increase in cases slows to a steady rate, the curve in a chart is not as pronounced - it "flattens."

Flattening the curve

Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time can be shown in a mathematical model that has a curve showing a steep exponential growth if no measures are put into place. Infection curves with a steep rise also have a steep fall. On a graph, this shows a very tall narrow curve. In real life this means a huge number of cases that can easily overwhelm the healthcare system.

If the same number of people are infected but more gradually, over a longer period of time, there is less likelihood of the healthcare system being so overwhelmed that people are turned away, and more chance that medical equipment, masks, ventilators, doctors and nurses, and so on are available. The likelihood is that fewer people will die, even if the same number of people are infected. This slower rate of increase is represented in a graph by a wider infection period with a lower point on the y axis. Essentially, the curve is "flattened."

Another important point: Flattening the curve provides more time for doctors, scientists, researchers and pharmaceutical companies to find treatments and eventually a vaccine. If the curve is flattened (if the rate at which people get infected is slowed), the hope is to also reduce the total number of people infected, and thus lose fewer lives to this pandemic.


   (Go to Top of FAQs)

What to Do if You Are Sick with COVID-19

  • Stay home exept to get medical care. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.Try to restrict yourself to one or two rooms away from the others staying in your home. If possible, use a separate bathroom.
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor. Make an appointment before going to the medical office, and be sure to tell them that you think you have COVID-19. They can help take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
  • Wear a facemask. When you are around others, wear a facemask if possible, or be sure to stay in a separate space from others in your home. Wear a facemask when traveling to the doctor (you should not be going anywhere else). If you cannot, suggest others wear a facemask when in the same room or a car with you.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trash can; immediately wash your hands (see below).
  • Avoid sharing personal household items. Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, utensils, hand/bath towels or washcloths, or bedding with other people or pets. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly.
  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If not possible, then clean your hands with an alchohol-based hand sanitizer (60-95% alcohol). Cover all surfaces of your hands, and rub them together briskly until they feel dry. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean all frequently touched services daily. Clean surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, etc. The CDC says to use a household disinfectant ("see EPA list) or a diluted solution of (unexpired) household bleach and water (4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water or 1/3-cup bleach per gallon of water. NEVER mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Bleach could stain or damage some surfaces; read guidance on bleach product.
  • Monitor your symptoms. Seek medical attention if your illness is worsening. Before seeing the doctor, call, avoid public transportation, and wear a facemask (see above items in this list). If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911 or request an ambulance, notify them that you are being evaluated for COVID-19 and put on a mask before help arrives.

Discontinuing home isolation:

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, remain home until you are completely recovered and risk of secondary tranasmission is unlikely. Incubation period is estimated at 2 to 14 days. Contact your doctor for specific advice.

COVID-19 Resources

Following are links to external articles and websites relevant to the Coronavirus. Each link opens in its own page or tab.

Fairfax County links:


Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) links:

Other links:

Straight Talk intro  |   FAQs  |   What to do if you are sick  |   COVID-19 Resources