Coronavirus FAQ

Well, from listening to the news it seems like we are inevitably headed for a massive, global pandemic. Millions of people will die. Soon thereafter, the zombies will rise, coughing and sneezing coronavirus loogies on the few healthy people left.

COVID-19(/the coronavirus/SARS-nCoV-2019/whatever) is likely to be, if it isn’t already, a pandemic. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are probably going to get sick. Some will die. As an ER doctor, I am almost certain to catch the disease. Seriously.

Since I’m youngish and otherwise healthy, I’m very unlikely to get sick from it.

(This is, however, offset by my Jewish genetics; 2,000 years of limited genetic diversity does not do an immune system any favors.)

In the face of such certain and overwhelming disaster, have no fear: I am here to provide the darkest humor I know how.


First, some facts to get out of the way:

  • Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that includes the common cold
  • I’m supposed to call THE coronavirus syndrome “COVID-19” because calling it the much cooler-sounding Wuhanian Flu could, in the opinion of the WHO, create stigma or depress the economy of the host country
  • Don’t lie, it’s not like Wuhan was on your travel list, and I’m gonna call it that anyway
  • The Wuhanian Flu appears to be quite infectious, with a suspected R-0 of somewhere between 1.4 and 3. This number is called the “reproductive number,” meaning for each person who contracts the disease, they infect R-0 number of people. A high R-0 means your pathogen is quite infectious. Wuhanian flu’s R-0 is about the same as the seasonal flu; for each person that gets infected, they can be expected to spread it to 2-3 additional people.
    • For comparison, smallpox has an R-0 of around 6 while measles ranges from 12-18.
  • The other key number to know is the “case-fatality rate,” or CFR, which is the number of people who get the infection and die. Right now the Wuhanian flu is around 2%, but that number is extremely likely to get much lower (closer to or far under 1%) for reasons we won’t get into here.
    • For comparison, the seasonal flu’s CFR is 0.1%. Measles is around 1-2%.

Okay enough numbers and facts. The bottom line is that the Wuhanian flu appears to be quite infectious, probably can spread from person-to-person even when the infected patient is asymptomatic or has mild symptoms, and probably most cases are mild. The same population that gets in trouble with regular flu (old, already-sick people with medical comorbidities) appears to be the same population that gets in trouble with Wuhanian flu.

Now. For those of you not my grandma and don’t know, I work at a large, West Coast academic center. By straight up proximity, we get a huge amount of air traffic from Asia. We’ve been paying attention to this outbreak from very early on.

We have a very detailed protocol for dealing with a suspected coronavirus patient, meant to ensure the safety of staff, other patients, and of course to try and contain any spread. That protocol is explained in great detail in a number of daily emails from our administration.

As far as I can tell, the current protocol involves putting the patient into an isolation room and then collectively losing our shit. We had a scare early in the outbreak: we literally cleared the halls of the emergency room by having our techs yell “CLEAR THE HALLS” and hold out their arms like they were in the School Patrol.

safety patrol.jpgA tech then got out a checklist and instructed the doctor (not me) going into the room in the correct steps to take. First, she stepped into a bunny suit like the ones you see in a NASA clean room. She then had to double-glove, put on a hat, face shield, and then of course don a trusty N95 mask (basically a very uncomfortable face mask) before going in the room.

Our protocol has matured since those early days. Now, when we have a suspected patient, we calmly sit down and search our emails for the most recent set of correct steps to take. After a few clicks, we end up limiting the people going in and out of that person’s room, call some poor infectious disease fellow who has been assigned as point person, and usually send the patient home to self-quarantine.

Since a lack of information and frank misinformation seems to rule the day on COVID-19, I thought I would provide answers to some frequently asked questions! Look at me being helpful.

(I am, actually, tempted to be serious, but that would be out of keeping with this website.)

Q: Am I going to die if I get COVID-19?

A: “Death” is a relative term. Since COVID-19 tends to turn its victims into semi-sentient zombies with a collective hive mind, some may argue that you will not die. However, you will definitely be unrecognizable to your parents and have an insatiable hunger for brainz.


a live look at the streets of Wuhan

Q: I’m supposed to go on a cruise. Should I still go?

A: No. You should cancel your cruise. This is because cruises are awful, boring, alcohol prisons. Why did you book a cruise? What a terrible decision.

Q: I have a runny nose. Should I go to the ER?

A: Our lovely law called EMTALA basically forbids me from saying no, but no. This is general, nonmedical advice. The ER is a terrible place. I mean, I’m there. Why would you come?

Q: Should I wear a mask?

A: I mean, how ugly are you? Do you have one of those cute masks with the kittens on them? If you are extremely ugly or have a cute mask, by all means. It won’t do anything to stop you from getting COVID-19, though; washing your hands is a better bet. This is because masks are uncomfortable and you are going to unconsciously adjust it constantly. The only thing wearing a mask does is make people cross the street when they see you (not a bad thing) and make you touch your face more (bad thing).

Q: Speaking of masks, how does coronavirus spread?

A: We aren’t 100% sure, but it’s quite likely to spread via droplets and close contact. It is still possible, but unlikely, that it can float around in the air like measles.

Fear of coronavirus spreads as fast as Karen can post about it on Facebook.


Q: Should I stop buying Corona beer? I’ve heard it’s transmitting the virus.  

A: You are an idiot.

*Amazingly, this is a real thing, which should make you feel thoroughly hopeless about the ability of our species to cope with this.

Q: What about air travel? I’m supposed to fly next week.

A: Do you line up directly in front of the gate 30 minutes before they start boarding, Mr. Group 11? If so, then you should cancel your flight. Make life less painful for the rest of us.

Why do people do this? Why are you so excited to clamber aboard a tin can for five hours? Someone please explain this to me.

Q: Where should I get my information from?

A: In general, you should only get your coronavirus information from Twitter, Facebook, and other viral (HA. HAHA.) sources of information. Specifically, you should pay particular attention to Facebook-posted articles from websites that end in “.info” and “.xyz.” These are international markers of repute and definitely not Russian disinformation bots. Don’t listen to the CDC or WHO, they’re a bunch of squares.*

*Serious advice though: If you’re actually trying to learn something or be a good citizen, listen to the CDC, the WHO, and local health department news releases and updates. Remember that news media companies still have to make money, and global death-pandemic is very good for business. Health journalists without training in epidemiology or medicine have been quite busy providing their opinions in the forms of fact, and so far, almost every one of the news articles I’ve read have contained misinformation or contained outright untruths.

Q: How is your hospital preparing for COVID?

A: I can’t provide specifics because I will get my tongue cut out, but the answer includes flamethrowers.

Here is a photo of us residents doomsday prepping:


One thought on “Coronavirus FAQ

  1. The falsehood continues in my on campus classes- classmate says “two people in our state have it.” Yeah no, suspected not confirmed.. no confirmed cases in our state.

    Wash your hands longer than you ever have before in your life- you’ll be fine then.

    Enjoyed my micro professor doing an info session and explaining that masks simply stop the staff member from touching their own face.

    Good post.

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