The Ins and Outs of COVID-19: An Interview with Dr. Roo Changizi

With the ongoing epidemic outbreak of the novel coronavirus pneomonia (COVID-19) a lot of questions still remain regarding what the virus is, how it is spread, how it is treated, and the general guidelines of what to do if we begin to show symptoms. With the ongoing uncertainty, it is always helpful to get professional insight into the current epidemic and the best precuations that we can take to stay safe. The Chair of Beijing United Family Hospital’s Center for Family Medicine and Integrative Health Care, Dr. Roo Changizi, is here to answer some of your common questions and concerns. Read on to stay aware of the most recent findings and updates.

Editor’s Note: WHO has renamed the disease “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated COVID-19). The virus causing the disease has been named “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (abbreviated SARS-CoV-2) by the responsible international taxonomy committee. Travax usage now reflects this nomenclature.

What is the novel coronavirus and how does it differ from other coronaviruses, such as SARS, MERS, or a cold?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

This virus probably originally emerged from an animal source, likely bats, and now seems to be spreading from person to person. As we speak, the World Health Organization (WHO) has given this virus a new name: SARS-coV-2

Why is it developing now? That is, how come we have not seen this type of virus before?

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. 

The causes are multi-factorial, from global warming and destruction of the natural habitats of animals to unusual eating habits of exotic animals, which are most likely the major causes of this outbreak.

How serious is the novel coronavirus? What makes this particular coronavirus strain so concerning?

This novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans and as such, we do not have immunity against it.

How does someone get infected with the virus? Is it easily contagious?

You can become infected by being exposed to a sick person or to their droplets (through coughing and sneezing, phlegm), or to the spaces or contaminated surfaces where this person has previously visited. 

Common human coronaviruses, including types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1, usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives. These illnesses usually only last for a short amount of time. Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell

Human coronaviruses can sometimes cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. This is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants, and older adults.

For confirmed COVID-19 disease, reported illnesses have ranged from people with little to no symptoms, to people being severely ill and dying. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

How long does the virus last on various surfaces, such as a door handle or a plastic bag touched by a delivery driver or someone at a grocery store?

In experiments, it is shown that a coronavirus is very fragile and without a viable host, the virus dies only after a few hours. As details are not available about this particular coronavirus, a good general rule would be to wipe your items clean with antiseptic wipe or leave them out of reach for 24 hours.

For items that require refrigeration, it is best to wipe the packaging clean with a wet antiseptic wipe and then store them or wash properly before using. It is also best to cook your meat well, including poultry and eggs.

Can SARS-CoV-2 be asymptomatically transmitted?

There is speculation that the virus can be transmitted when the person has very little or no symptoms, in almost all cases however, some sort of mild discomfort has been present. Studies are showing exposure to large droplets by patients and contaminated surfaces have been the major sources of infections.

On average, what is the incubation period of the virus?

 CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS viruses.

How can I protect myself?

There are simple, everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. These include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.

Is it necessary to wear a mask every time you are in public? 

Common surgical masks are important to preventing the spread of the virus to others, as well as reducing the amount of droplets others are being exposed to. In a sense, by protecting others, we are depriving this virus of a new host.  

A common mask is effective, but will not give you a 100% protection, unless you are using a medical grade, properly fitting 3M N95 mask.

What are the main symptoms?

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell
  • In rare, severe cases, shortness of breath

What is the protocol if someone starts to feel like they have symptoms? Should they call their medical provider? Or should they immediately go to one of the designated fever screening clinics?

You should call BJU or their hotline, and always call ahead before visiting your doctor to describe any symptoms you may have and to see if you need to come in. This will help your healthcare provider’s office take the necessary steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.

More so, what happens when you get your temperature checked at say your apartment building or grocery store, and you have a slight fever? What will they do? Do you automatically get sent somewhere for testing?

If your temperature is confirmed to be 37.3 or greater twice, they will ask you to go to a designated fever clinic. BJU is a designated hospital where you’ll be seen and properly examined and investigated to rule out COVID-19.

Additionally, it has been reported that younger, healthier individuals could potentially get the virus, feel somewhat sick, but be able to fight it off and recover without knowing they had it. If this occurs, should someone observe the 14-day quarantine period?

Be prudent – 14 days of isolation are needed.

Is there any treatment for the disease?

Currently, there are no specific antiviral treatments for COVID-19, however research and resources are being fast tracked for treatment and the development of a vaccine.

As there is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

Is there any treatment for the disease?

Currently, there are no specific antiviral treatments for COVID-19, however research and resources are being fast tracked for treatment and the development of a vaccine.

As there is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

Can it be cured?

The majority of cases are getting cured. Studies are showing that the cure rate is up to 97-98%, with very low mortality compared to SARS.

What is the likelihood of reinfection? 

The data are not available, but if the patient is healthy, the likelihood of reinfection is probably very low. However, one needs to take proper precautions with good hand hygiene, facial masks, and avoiding crowded places.

Is there any hypothesis on how long this outbreak will last? Is this novelcoronavirus likely to be a reoccurring event, such as the seasonal flu?

The data are very supportive that the virus and its spread are slowing down. However, time will tell how long this pandemic can last. In a few months we will have a better understanding of the behavior of this virus.

There is speculation that this virus could slip into the background and show itself as seasonal cold or flu. A vaccine will take months to get developed and to be tested and approved. Once such a vaccine has been developed, it will be up to the WHO and CDC to decide if this should be added to the yearly vaccine recommendations.

There is so much information on social media and other websites. How do I avoid misinformation, or what are some trusted sources that I can look into regarding updates on the virus and more information?

  • Call BJU/hotline
  • Refer to the BJU website for accurate information on the coronavirus
  • Or visit other established reputable websites, such as;; and

In conclusion

  • Stay positive and do activities that will bring you joy and peace of mind.
  • Open your windows for fresh air and ventilation, avoid crowded and confined spaces, eat well, exercise, and get rid of unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking in excess.
  • With public awareness and the measures being taken along with warming of the weather, this virus will run its course soon and possibly diminish into the background.
  • If you are sick with cough, low grade fever and malaise, stay home and restrict activities outside of your home, and call us for medical advice.
  • Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Do not use public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.

As Chair of Beijing United Family Hospital’s Center for Family Medicine and Integrative Health Care, Dr. Roo Changizi continues to make a difference in people’s lives every day. If you have any health concerns you wish to discuss with him or any of BJU’s experienced doctors, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment via our 24-hour hotline at 4008-919191.