There’s been an abundance of information circulating since the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has taken hold in New Jersey.

Some of it may seem overly comprehensive or hard to keep straight as it is divided among different platforms. So, in order to assist the community in adhering to best practices and in obtaining the best information, the most vital tips from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, New Jersey Department of Health and Mercer County government has been consolidated here for ease of access.

It is important to note that new information regarding COVID-19 comes from these organizations every day. For the most up-to-date information is available on each of the organization’s websites.

Below are general questions answered so that residents can keep healthy and stay informed:

What are the common symptoms of COVID-19?

Those who have reported illness have ranged from mild symptoms, like a common cold, to severe illness even and death.

The following symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to COVID-19: fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Populations at higher risk include older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes. According to the CDC, they seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19.

People at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 should contact their healthcare provider early, even if their illness is mild.

If emergency warning signs develop, get medical attention immediately. These signs include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new or worsening confusion and bluish lips or face.

It is important to note that this list provided by the CDC is not all inclusive. Consult a healthcare provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

How long do symptoms take to appear?

According to the CDC, COVID-19 symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure. This estimate is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses, another viral respiratory illness.

What do I do if I or someone in my household has symptoms of COVID-19?

Upon development of a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call a healthcare provider for medical advice before going to a medical facility.

To protect others in the home and community if symptoms of COVID-19 present, adhere to the following steps.

  • Stay home: People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to recover at home. Do not leave, except to get medical care. Do not visit public areas.
  • Stay in touch with a doctor: Call before getting medical care. Calling the doctor’s office or emergency department will alert them that there is a possible case of COVID-19. This will help the office protect themselves and other patients, as well as allow you to describe symptoms and receive instructions on what to do next.
  • Seek medical care right away if illness is worsening. Be sure to get care if symptoms worsen or if there is an emergency.
  • Avoid public transportation.
  • Implement home isolation, which is separating those who are sick from other people in the home.
  • Wear a facemask if sick or if caring for someone who is sick. If possible, put on a facemask when sick before entering a building. If not, try to keep at least six feet away from others.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean hands often with soap and water. Be sure to scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds, which is how long it takes for the soap to break down the virus’s fatty envelope. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items if sick or someone in the home is sick.
  • Clean and disinfect all “high-touch” surfaces daily. High-touch surfaces include phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables. Clean and disinfect areas that may have blood, stool or body fluids on them. Most EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.
  • Follow care instructions from healthcare provider and local health department: Local health authorities will give instructions on checking symptoms and reporting information.
  • Call 911 if there’s a medical emergency: If in a medical emergency, call 911 and notify the operator of possible COVID-19 illness. If possible, put on a facemask before medical help arrives.

How can you get tested for COVID-19? When should you get tested?

If someone is in close contact with a patient with COVID-19 or they’re a resident in a community where there is ongoing spread of the illness and develop symptoms, call a healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms and exposure. They will decide whether it’s needed to be tested. There is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home.

To avoid overcrowding medical facilities and risking unnecessary medical costs or exposure to COVID-19, it is stressed to first reach out to a healthcare provider before seeking testing.

What is the cost of testing?

In order to avoid unnecessary medical costs, it is best practice to consult a medical professional over the phone before visiting a medical facility or testing center.

In the case of getting tested, the cost may vary depending upon which lab runs the test and what health insurance is held.

Although tests by a CDC, state or city public health lab are free to patients, these labs are not expected to run the majority of tests. Private or academic labs are not free, meaning an insurer could be billed, consequently billing the patient. If uninsured the bill goes directly to the patient.

The federal government announced in March that Medicare and Medicaid would cover the entire cost of the test. Since the tests have been deemed “essential health benefits,” they must be covered by most insurers.

Some insurers are taking measures to provide a more affordable testing cost for their members. Check with the health insurance company before getting tested, including those under a larger employers’ plan, to understand their cost and offerings.

Where are COVID-19 tests available in Mercer County?

According to the NJ DOH, the state is working to expand its testing capacity with new facilities. The county planned to open a new drive-through testing site at Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrence March 31. A prescription is needed to get tested.

A testing site in Bergen County, located at Bergen County Community College, started testing March 20. Initially it will only collect specimens from symptomatic individuals. Symptomatic healthcare workers and first responders will be prioritized. The location will have the capacity to collect 2,500 specimens a week. They will not test those without symptoms, people the state has deemed “the worried well.”

Another site in Monmouth County, at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, was planned to be opened by late March. There is a drive-thru site by appointment at Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus.

It is stressed that those with symptoms call their regular healthcare provider, who will decide whether testing is recommended and where to go. This is to cut down the number of those from the “worried well” crowding the sites and risking unnecessary exposure. These sites are for specimen collection for people who are symptomatic.

How is COVID-19 spread?

The COVID-19 virus is mainly spread person-to-person by being in close contact with someone (within 6 feet) or through respiratory droplets from an infected person sneezing or coughing.

Another way COVID-19 can spread is by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes.

According to the CDC, people are most contagious when they are most symptomatic, although spread of the illness may be possible before showing symptoms.

The WHO has stated that since many people may experience mild symptoms, especially in the early stages of the illness, people who may not appear to have COVID-19 may still be able to spread it.

How long is COVID-19 contagious?

Since this is a new disease, the CDC said it is still learning the specifics of how the virus spreads, the exact duration of the illness and the degree of illness it can cause.

Medical providers who instruct people to go under home isolation, as opposed to being hospitalized, have certain standards that must be currently met before allowing a discontinuation of home isolation.

A person who had symptoms of COVID-19 and was instructed to stay home can stop isolation after at least 72 hours have passed since recovering. Recovery is defined as no fever without use of fever-reducing medications, improvement of respiratory symptoms and at least seven days since the symptoms first appeared.

The CDC said that although this recommendation will prevent most secondary spread and the risk of transmission after recovery is substantially less, transmission of the illness could still occur.

Those with lab-confirmed COVID-19 that haven’t had any symptoms can discontinue home isolation after at least seven days since the date of their first positive COVID-19 test, and if there was no later illness.

Can COVID-19 be caught more than once?

At this time medical organizations and the state of New Jersey are still learning about the COVID-19 spread and haven’t been able to conclusively determine certain characteristics of the illness, including if it can be caught more than once.

When are cases expected to peak in New Jersey?

According to the NJ DOH, the peak number of positive COVID-19 cases depends on many factors including how well mitigation strategies work, such as social distancing. Cases are expected to increase for the next several weeks as testing increases.

Currently, the state is assessing its hospitals and preparing them with surge and capacity planning in preparation for an increase in patients who need medical attention. All hospitals in New Jersey are able to and expected to care for COVID-19 patients.

What are the best practices for avoiding and stopping the spread of COVID-19?

One of the best ways to stay protected from COVID-19 is to stay informed on the latest information about the illness through trusted organizations and medical and government officials.

Since there is no vaccine to prevent the disease, the best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid exposure. Practicing social distancing, limiting person-to-person contact, especially within 6 feet and staying away from sick persons, are all ways to reduce the chance of exposure.

Simple daily habits, like washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, or coughing or sneezing, can help prevent COVID-19 as well.

If soap and water isn’t available be sure to use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

If sick, stay home and call a healthcare provider to go over symptoms and next steps. If sick and around others, such as sharing a room or vehicle, or not sick and caring for someone who is, wear a facemask.

Be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces every day.

Those at higher risk, including older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions should consult with a healthcare provider about additional steps that can be taken to protect themselves.

What have I heard about COVID-19 that is actually wrong or misinformation?

The WHO has straightened out some of the more pressing misinformation about the novel coronavirus.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses; they only work on bacterial infections. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not work. Antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment of COVID-19. They should only be used as directed by a physician to treat a bacterial infection.

Smoking or wearing multiple masks are ineffective against COVID-19 and could be harmful.

There is no vaccine for the current coronavirus. Vaccines against pneumonia do not provide protection against the new coronavirus.

To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus. However, if sick, patients should contact a healthcare provider to discuss symptoms and decide on a path of treatment; either at-home care and isolation or hospitalization.

How can we reduce stigma surrounding COVID-19?

One of the side effects of the global coronavirus pandemic has been the social stigma placed on certain people, places and things. Fear and anxiety about the coronavirus have highlighted discrimination in association with the illness.

COVID-19 in some cases has been associated with a particular population and nationality, despite not everyone in that population or from that region being at risk of the disease.

Some groups who may be experiencing stigma include people of Asian descent, people who have traveled, emergency responders or healthcare professionals. Those stigmatized may be subjected to social avoidance or rejection, denials of healthcare, education, housing or employment or physical violence.

Stigma can have negative effects on emotional and mental health, in turn producing more stress for those groups. Learning the facts of COVID-19 and sharing the proper information can aid in reducing stigma.

Who do I contact with questions?

Call a regular healthcare provider if you have COVID-19 symptoms before going to a medical facility.

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Call the NJ COVID-19 & Poison Center 24/7 Public Hotline at (800) 962-1253 or (800) 222-1222 for general questions or visit nj.gov/health. For general information, dial 211 or text your zip code to 898-211. For alerts and updates, text NJCOVID to 898-211.

If you’re feeling anxiety and worry related to the novel coronavirus, New Jerseyans can call 866-202-HELP (4357) for free, confidential support from NJ Mental Health Cares, the state’s behavioral health information and referral service. NJ Mental Health Cares will be answered from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week by live trained specialists.

CONTACT of Mercer County is a nonprofit program that offers a hotline for those in crisis in Mercer County at (609) 896-2120 and (609) 585-2255. For information on COVID-19, visit mercercounty.org/covid-19.