For weeks now, the lives of Tennesseans have been upended by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The virus has been especially disruptive for parents, students, and educators. Workplaces are closed, and any adults who can are working from home. Schools are closed, and parents are doing their best to teach kids at home until it’s safe for them to return to the classroom. Int his scary and unsettling time, let’s go over the facts about COVID-19.

How contagious and how deadly is COVID-19? 
Our understanding of how the virus spreads is still evolving, but we know it’s more contagious than the flu and about 10 times more deadly. Some have expressed the inaccurate perception that COVID-19 is only serious in the elderly or in those with pre-existing conditions, but that is not what the data have shown. In fact, early data from the CDC found that those aged 20-44 made up 20 percent of US COVID-19 hospitalizations. Because this is an entirely new virus, no one has immunity, and everyone is susceptible to infection.  

Are kids at risk? Why close schools? 
Based on the experience from China and around the world, children seem to be remarkably resilient to this virus. They typically only have mild symptoms of the common cold. This may be due to their common exposure to other strains of the coronavirus family. However, children can be carriers of the infection, and schools provide the prime opportunity for the virus to be disseminated widely. Children could bring the virus back in their homes to infect their parents, grandparents, and siblings, so closing schools is an important part of a social distancing strategy. 

What should I do if I feel sick or a loved one does? 
If you or a loved one feels sick with the major symptoms we have seen with this disease — cough, fever, and shortness of breath — stay at home and contact your medical provider or state or local health department for guidance on whether you should be tested. For testing, check to see if your usual source of care is administering tests. If not, check the Tennessee Department of Health website for a current list of testing sites by county.  
According to the latest CDC guidance, if you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, get medical attention immediately. Emergency warning signs include: 

  • Trouble breathing 
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest 
  • New confusion or inability to arouse 
  • Bluish lips or face 

This is a disconcerting time for everyone, but the measures we are taking to flatten the curve will help to keep more of us safe and healthy. Our actions matter, and these steps are making a difference. Together, we can defeat this invisible enemy. Thank you for all you’re doing to keep our community safe. If you’d like to hear the latest information about the virus and why it’s important that we take these measures, get updates on COVID-19 through my podcast, A Second Opinion

Senator Bill Frist is the founder and chairman of SCORE.