Coronavirus: Separating facts from myths

Doctor explains what you need to know

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fear is rapidly spreading along with news of the coronavirus making its way to Florida, likely due to misconceptions that are circulating about the respiratory illness.

CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. John LaPook, who is also an internist and gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health, made an appearance on News 6 at Nine Tuesday morning to separate fact from fiction and answer some commonly asked questions.

His biggest takeaway: Don’t panic.

“I think the biggest misconception is the fear, the degree of fear people seem to have, right? So the best treatment for fear is facts and it’s natural -- it’s the fear of the unknown -- and there’s actually a lot more known than people realize,” LaPook said.

Here are some things he wants the public to keep in mind when it comes to COVID-19.

What are the symptoms and how is it spread?

Symptoms are similar to what you’d see with a common cold or flu: fever, cough and, if it spreads to the lungs, shortness of breath.

The virus spreads through the respiratory route, also the same as other more common illnesses. LaPook said when a sick person coughs or sneezes, droplets disperse and could potentially infect someone standing within six feet.

For that reason, it’s important to take precautions if you need to sneeze or cough and if you’re feeling sick, stay home.

“You want to cough into the crook of your arm, you don’t want to sneeze out into the air, you want to wash your hands frequently because we tend to all touch our faces,” LaPook said.

What are some prevention tips?

Along with the things mentioned above, good hygiene is your best bet.

“Wash your hands as much as you can,” LaPook said.

If you opt for hand sanitizer or an alcohol wipe, be sure to rub the tips of your fingers as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends disinfecting commonly used surfaces and avoiding people who are sick.

On top of that, LaPook suggests getting a flu vaccine if you haven’t already.

“You might actually have the flu and you’re all scared that you have coronavirus -- not that the flu is not serious because the flu affects, so far this year, more than 39 million people and 18,000 deaths -- but people don’t panic about that even though it’s very serious, but I think people need to put this in perspective,” LaPook said.

For information about flu shots, click here.

Who’s most at risk?

LaPook said the only silver lining is that children seem to be less affected.

“Older people with underlying conditions like diabetes and lung disease, they tend to be most at risk,” LaPook said.

LaPook also noted that about 80% of the cases in China were mild, while 20% were serious and required intubation.

The CDC also outlined some risk factors on its website.

  • For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.
  • People in communities where ongoing community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated though still relatively low risk of exposure.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure.

Is there a vaccine?

No, there’s not but LaPook said one is in the works.

“It’s an amazing technological tour de force. What they did is they took an existing zika vaccine, unscrewed the top of it that made it specific to zika, screwed on one that made is specific for coronavirus and they’ve already got it and they’re already testing it. It’s gonna take a year before it’s really widely available if everything goes right,” LaPook said.

What is the treatment?

Right now, the focus is on supportive care, meaning IV fluids, providing oxygen and inserting a breathing tube if necessary.

“They’re trying anti-viral treatment but right now it’s experimental and even some traditional Chinese treatment,” LaPook said.

What’s one thing to keep in mind?

There’s a lot of information circulating about the coronavirus, including rumors. Check established news websites, the CDC, the Florida Department of Health and the National Institutes of Health for information you can trust.

“I think that the fear and panic are way out of proportion to what’s going on now. Right now, we have to listen to our scientists,” LaPook said.

To keep up with the latest news, visit’s webpage dedicated to coronavirus coverage.