herd immunity is still very far away.

Epidemiologists don’t know yet exactly where the threshold is for the coronavirus, but they expect to find it somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the population. Even New York City, the center of America’s worst outbreak, is still far below that: Only around 20 percent of residents tested in a survey in early May showed any antibodies, and that may be an overestimate.

Some countries — notably Sweden, and briefly Britain — experimented with minimal social distancing restrictions in an effort to develop immunity in their populations. But no more than 7 to 17 percent of people there seem to have antibodies so far.

“We don’t have a good way to safely build it up, to be honest, not in the short term,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Unless we’re going to let the virus run rampant again — but I think society has decided that is not an approach available to us.”

Unproven premise: The hopes for herd immunity — and for a vaccine — rest on the belief that the antibodies will protect against reinfection. There is some evidence suggesting that people do achieve immunity to the coronavirus, as they do with many other viruses. But it is not yet certain whether that’s true in all cases, or how robust the immunity may be, or how long it will last.

Groceries, packages, elevator buttons, doorknobs. Many people worry about touching all kinds of surfaces that others may have handled, for fear of infection. Should they?

To catch the virus that way, a series of things has to happen in just the right way. Droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough would have to get onto the surface; then you would have to touch it while enough virus particles remained viable; and then you would have to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

Our Well editor Tara Parker-Pope explains that timing and quantity are important. The virus is fragile and begins to disintegrate within hours; though some particles can last up to three days on plastic or steel, there may not be enough left by then to infect you.

And you can break the chain of contamination completely with the pandemic’s golden rules: Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face.

After two months of stay-at-home restrictions, New York City has flattened its curve — but many people are still becoming infected. More than 13,000 people in the city tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks.

Our colleague Andy Newman told us that after seeing mask-wearing in the city “go from being a weird outlier thing to the near-universal conduct,” he wondered: “How is it that people are still managing to get sick?”

Epidemiologists, doctors, health officials and patients told him that the people catching the virus now in the New York area include essential workers and their families; elderly people; people who cannot socially distance at home; poor residents of the Bronx; and farm workers who live outside the city.

  • Updated May 28, 2020

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Can I go to the park?

      Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.

    • How do I take my temperature?

      Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How do I get tested?

      If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

That’s who — but what about how? Andy said he did not find a complete answer for that, in part because the public health experts he spoke to were puzzled, too.

It’s a particularly difficult question, he told us, “because many people who get the virus don’t have any idea themselves how they got it.”

Order food in safely. Takeout and delivery both pose little risk when you follow common-sense precautions. Contact the restaurant first to make sure workers wear masks and gloves, and eliminate touch points by skipping utensils and paying in advance.

Prepare for transformed air travel. If you fly this summer, bring hand sanitizer, wipes and a mask. Before you reach security, put items like wallets and phones in your carry-on, to reduce contact with the bins. Use the airline’s app for touch-free boarding.

Childproof your home. Accident risks loom larger when children are cooped up and parents are juggling work and caretaking. These tips will help you spot and reduce hazards indoors and out.


Credit…Julia Wall/News & Observer

I’m in quarantine in the basement for two weeks after traveling home from school. My mom and I like to sit at opposite ends of the staircase each night and play gin rummy with our own decks of cards. It helps pass the time, and it’s nice to feel like I’m engaging with someone without a screen, even if we’re far apart.

— Nicole McHenry, Seattle

Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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