Getting the coronavirus again
It’s official: Humans can get reinfected with the coronavirus. The first documented case is a 33-year-old man in Hong Kong who caught the virus at the end of March and, more than four months later, picked it up again during a trip to Europe.
The proof lay in the genome sequencing of the virus from both of the man’s infections, which researchers found to be significantly different. The second strain was one that had been circulating in Europe when he was there.
The theoretical possibility of reinfection does not come as a surprise. “We expected that the immunity to the coronavirus might last less than a year because that’s how it is with common cold coronaviruses,” Apoorva Mandavilli, a Times science reporter, told us.
The man experienced mild symptoms the first time he had Covid-19 but had none the second time — an encouraging sign, and very likely an indication that his immune system had been trained by the initial infection.
If the research is buttressed by subsequent cases, it will underline the need for a comprehensive vaccine. “We can’t just get to herd immunity the natural way because only vaccines may be able to produce the kind of immune response that can prevent reinfection,” Apoorva said.
Forget antibody tests. Many of the current ones are inaccurate, some look for the wrong antibodies and even the right antibodies can disappear, experts at the Infectious Diseases Society of America have advised. And because antibody tests can’t tell you if you’re immune to subsequent infections, they’re useless in deciding whether to ease up on mask-wearing and other social-distancing precautions.
China gets back to regular life
As the United States struggles to contain the pandemic and the European Union faces a fresh wave of cases, life in many parts of China is more or less back to normal.
Schools and movie theaters have reopened, cities are hosting large events, social distancing and masks rules have been relaxed, and people are resuming their old habits and routines — with some modifications.
It’s a sharp departure from the early days of the outbreak when China was the epicenter of the virus and anxiety gripped the country. The authoritarian government instituted a strict lockdown that successfully curbed cases, and now local transmission rates are near zero. The total number of confirmed cases in the country is 84,951, with at least 4,634 deaths from the virus. In the United States, nearly 5.7 million people have been infected and at least 176,200 have died.
Experts warn that China could still face a resurgence, and many are worried that the public isn’t taking the virus seriously enough. Still, many are just glad to be returning to something resembling normal life.
Yuki Liu, a 28-year-old who works at a foreign trading company, attended a crowded pool party rave in Wuhan this month where she said she felt “relaxed and free.”
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 24, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome — which caused their blood oxygen levels to plummet — and received supplemental oxygen. In severe cases, they were placed on ventilators to help them breathe. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. (And some people don’t show many symptoms at all.) In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed. Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe” — but few other serious symptoms. More serious cases can lead to inflammation and organ damage, even without difficulty breathing. There have been cases of dangerous blood clots, strokes and brain impairments.
Why does standing six feet away from others help?
- The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It’s a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it’s windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
“To be honest, I almost forgot about the epidemic,” she said.
What else we’re following
What you’re doing
I’ve finished a project almost 50 years in the making. My father made a chess board. He intended to make the chess pieces also but never got around to it. About 20 years ago, I started carving the pieces (he passed away 30 years ago). I finally had the time to finish and now my chess pieces adorn his chess board.
— Gary Adkins, Raleigh, N.C.
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