SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19 that first appeared in the Chinese province of Wuhan in late 2019. It belongs to the same family of corona viruses as SARS-CoV-1. As with SARS-CoV-1 infection, the symptoms include dry coughing, fever, a runny nose and varying degrees of breathing difficulty.
Although the two diseases have similar symptoms, COVID-19 has a lower mortality than SARS but is significantly more infectious. Unlike SARS-CoV-1, patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection also become infectious before symptoms appear. Patients can also continue being infectious for several days before symptoms appear. These two characteristics of COVID-19 make it a significantly greater public health challenge than SARS. Public health experts have recommended the extensive use of “social distancing” to control the rate of spread of the disease.
To control the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, public health doctors recommend frequent and thorough hand washing. They also recommend avoiding touching the face as much as possible. However, unless one is a health care professional attending to potential SARS or COVID-19 patients, using a face mask is not recommended. In fact, some experts believe that using an N95 or other mask when untrained in their use actually increases the infection risk. However, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are vital for nurses or doctors treating COVID-19 patients.