Illustrated coronavirus cells fill the frame

Follow along this story as the Kansan updates information regarding the novel coronavirus. 

'The virus is not as deadly as the flu.' — No, but it could be if we don’t do anything.

Fehr said about 30,000 people die of the flu every year. He said this is relatively low because people have access to an annual flu shot and the virus is allowed to run its course.

“I would be shocked if we have 30,000 deaths from this virus with the measures that we’re putting in,” Fehr said. “I’ve seen some models where somewhere around half the population gets infected … but those models are based on us doing absolutely nothing, basically what we do with the flu.” 

Fehr said he hopes, with every measure put in place, it is possible to get the numbers down to less than those of the flu.

'This escalation was predictable.' — No, but escalation wasn’t ruled out.

During a Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction event held by the University of Kansas in February, Fehr and a panel of other experts discussed the outbreak at a time when it was mostly contained to Wuhan. During the panel, Fehr said he felt it could be contained and the threat mitigated. A month later, he said he was surprised at how quickly the virus spread. 

“Not long after it started in Europe, I really started having second thoughts because at that point it was clear that it was going to be able to cross the globe,” Fehr said. “We kind of knew that there was always going to be the potential for this to occur, but I never thought that it would happen so soon into my tenure here.”

'Current statistics on infected people are underestimates.' — Yes.

According to the CDC, as of 7 p.m on March 20, there are 15,219 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. However, Fehr said these numbers are likely not correct due to a lack of available test kits and the number of people carrying the virus but not showing symptoms

“There’s a lot of asymptomatic people that we don’t know about and we haven’t been testing them because that’s not been our target population to test,” Fehr said. “Who knows how many cases we have?”

Fehr said the number of asymptomatic carriers may be as common as those with symptoms which makes tracking the epidemic especially difficult.

“The coronavirus will run its course in two weeks.” —  No.

“Everybody is going away for two weeks and I think people wrongly assume that’s going to be it,” Fehr said. 

If everybody started doing what they were doing before the virus directly after quarantine, he said, it's likely for it to quickly return. 

“There’s no way you’re going to eliminate this in two weeks,” Fehr said.

However, though the virus may last months, it will eventually run it's natural course and life will resume. 

'The virus will stop or slow down when it gets warm.' — Unknown, but possible.

Fehr said coronaviruses causes a decent number of the common cold cases each year, and many of them come and go with heat. He said it doesn’t mean this will happen with the novel coronavirus, but he didn’t rule out the possibility. 

Fehr said he couldn’t give specifics because much about the virus is still unknown, however according to an article from USA Today, scientists say their best guess is to compare the coronavirus pandemic to the 2003 SARS outbreak which they said ended in the warm months of May and June. 

'Younger people have a lower risk of developing severe symptoms.' — Yes, but they are not immune from it.

Fehr said the fatality rate for people under 20 is below 10%, and though children can show symptoms, few of them are severe cases. However, he said, they are still carriers who can transmit the virus to those who can be more significantly affected.

Furthermore, according to an article from The New York Times, almost 40% of hospitalized patients are aged 20 to 54. As new evidence surfaces, a better picture will be painted as to whom the virus will affect, Fehr said, but the majority of at-risk patients are older or with underlying health concerns.

'The virus could mutate into something worse.' — Unlikely.

Fehr said the virus is unlikely to mutate in any way that makes itself easier to transmit because it is already very contagious and further mutation would not help the virus.

“Viruses mutate all the time,” Fehr said. “If you’ve destroyed your vectors that you use to move to another person, and so I highly doubt it will mutate in a way that makes it much more virulent. This virus is kind of a perfect storm of excellent transmissibility but with enough disease that it can keep pushing itself forward.”

'A face mask will protect you from the virus.' —  No.

According to an article from USA Today, fears over the virus caused stores like Target and Walmart to run out of stock of antiviral face masks, and consumers report shortages across the country. A common myth is that these masks will protect people from infection, but Fehr said these face masks are not designed for public prevention but instead for people already infected with the virus. 

“The people that really need those are people that are very sick,” Fehr said. “Face masks are needed in the healthcare industry. I’m not going to say that they don’t do anything. I’ve seen a few pieces of data that suggest they’re not particularly helpful in social settings.” 

The CDC recommends washing hands and practicing social distancing instead of buying face masks to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“Pets can spread the coronavirus.” — Unlikely.

While the novel coronavirus has its genetic roots in animal hosts such as bats and possibly pangolins, Fehr said it is unlikely that the virus could infect household pets. There is no evidence that suggests that dogs and cats can become ill from the virus, according to the New York State Veterinary Medical Society

However, the CDC still advises that people take precautions to limit exposure to pets just as they would other people.

“The vaccine is right around the corner.” — No, and it could take a year to produce a vaccine.

As cases of the coronavirus continue to increase, a need for a vaccine or treatment is also increasing. Fehr said such a vaccine has begun testing, but commercial availability won’t be until sometime next year. 

“I think that a year is probably a pretty good timetable, but we’ve got to do all the data collection to figure out if it works, Fehr said. “Eventually we’ll figure out how to ramp up the production.”

Until then, Fehr said the virus may slow down through alternative treatments  and the practice of social distancing and proper hygiene.

-Edited by Brianna Wessling