Coronavirus pandemic 7 months later: Everything we know right now

Testing, vaccines, prevention and more -- everything we know about COVID-19, and also what we still don't.

Amanda Capritto
6 min read

This scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 shows the coronavirus with a backdrop of cells in pink and blue.


It's hard to believe we've been living in our weird, scary, coronavirus-ridden world for seven months now. CNET first covered the novel coronavirus in December 2019, when it was still a "mystery virus." By January 2020, the US cases hadn't even topped 10 people total, and the experts were telling everyone not to worry. 

Oh, how quickly that changed. It seems like in an instant, US cases skyrocketed, lockdowns were enforced, travel restrictions abounded, Zoom's worth shot through the roof and the entire world shifted into a quasi-online version of what we used to know, complete with too much anxiety and too many "what ifs?" And, seven months later, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus.

No one can blame anyone for their nonchalant attitudes during the early days of the pandemic: The virus just seemed so far away and insignificant, and the US has a tendency to collectively say, "That'll never happen to me."  

There was a light at the end of the tunnel in May and June 2020, when many states started to loosen stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. That feels like false hope now that US cases are once again on the rise.

Throughout all of this, some corners of the internet have managed to keep hope and positivity alive with memes and solidarity. And, though the novel coronavirus is still largely a mystery, we do have much more information than we did six months ago. Here's what we've learned to date. 

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How does coronavirus spread? 

The coronavirus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets, so the main way people transmit the virus is through coughing, sneezing, talking, singing, yawning and breathing around other people. This can even happen when people don't show any symptoms

Coronavirus can also spread when people touch surfaces, such as doorknobs and hand rails, that have the virus on them. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say this isn't the main way that the novel coronavirus spreads. 

How does coronavirus compare to the flu? 

Though some people who become infected with the novel coronavirus have flu-like symptoms, COVID-19 is not the same as the flu. Although both conditions are a respiratory disease, COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus, while the flu is caused by influenza virus, and the two viruses have different transmission patterns and mortality rates

If you start having flu-like symptoms, it's important to seek testing immediately and isolate yourself from other members of your household, because it's hard to tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19 based on symptoms alone.


Many things about the coronavirus are still a mystery. 

Getty/Kena Betancur

How can you protect yourself from coronavirus?

To best protect yourself and others from COVID-19, practice exceptional personal hygiene and follow national and local public health guidelines. According to current CDC guidelines, the most important actions to take include:

  • Washing your hands frequently for 20 seconds or longer
  • Using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't available
  • Wearing a mask when you leave your house 
  • Physically distance yourself from everyone, but especially people who are sick
  • Avoiding discretionary travel 
  • Avoiding large gatherings

What happens if you get coronavirus? 

If you think you have COVID-19 or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should isolate yourself right away. To prevent the virus from spreading further, avoid contact with others until you're completely free of symptoms. 

Self-quarantine is a good time to call everyone you'd been in contact with over the last few weeks to let them know that you're sick. It's also a good idea for those people to self-isolate just in case they're in the pre-symptomatic phase of the virus or a totally asymptomatic carrier

Monitor your symptoms. If they're mild, stay home and take care of yourself. Stay in touch with your doctor and report any changes in symptoms or severity. If you start to feel like you can't breathe, can't stay awake or experience other emergency warning signs, seek medical treatment right away. 

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What is it like to have coronavirus? 

Part of what's so weird and scary about the coronavirus is that symptoms seem to be different in everyone. First, the major symptoms were coughing, fever and shortness of breath. Then, people started reporting loss of taste and smell, digestive upset, headaches and more.

For some people who have had COVID-19 and recovered, it's like coming back from the common cold. Others, however, have had cases that leave them with extreme fatigue for months, among a host of other intense symptoms.

How can you get tested for coronavirus? 

It's much easier to get tested for coronavirus now than it was in the early days of the pandemic. When hospitals were overflowing and testing kits were scarce, you couldn't get tested for COVID-19 unless you had a fever or several other symptoms. The exact criteria differed by testing site

Now, most people can easily get a coronavirus test. Some states and counties still have restrictions, but for the most part, if you show up to a testing site, you'll get tested -- although you might have to wait in a line. 

You can also look into at-home coronavirus tests, but things get a bit more nuanced (and expensive) there. What we know so far is the Food and Drug Administration emergency-approved Pixel by LabCorp on April 21, as well as Rutgers University's RUCDR Infinite Biologics biorepository on April 13.


A coronavirus testing tent.

James Martin/CNET

Is it free to get tested for coronavirus? 

Thanks to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, actual testing for COVID-19 should be covered by your insurance. However, you may have to pay for other costs, such as care or treatment after a diagnosis. 

What is the coronavirus test like? 

The main method of coronavirus testing is nasal swabbing. During these tests, a nurse or doctor inserts a swab about six inches long into one of your nostrils. It looks like an extra-long Q-tip. The swab reaches the back of your nasal cavity, where your nurse or doctor spins the swab around. Your provider might swab the other nostril to make sure they have an adequate sample. 

Some testing sites also use saliva testing and cheek swabs now, which are better tolerated by most people. Saliva testing involves spitting into a tube, and cheek swabs are similar to nasal swabs, except the sample is taken from the inside of your cheek. 

Antibody testing, which aims to find out if you've already had the virus, requires a blood sample. 

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When will we have a coronavirus vaccine? 

Several potential coronavirus vaccines are beginning to enter Phase 3 clinical trials, which means they're ready to be tested in hundreds of thousands of people. This is good news, because it means the potential vaccinations don't cause any immediate adverse effects.

Still, a vaccine is realistically months away, or even more than a year away. Once a vaccine is approved, it could still take months for it to become available to everyone in the US. 

How can you sign up for a coronavirus vaccine trial? 

You can sign up to volunteer for a coronavirus vaccine trial by visiting the Coronavirus Prevention Network and submitting your information through a survey. If researchers determine you are eligible for a trial, you'll be contacted by a study coordinator. 


 A COVID-19 vaccine is in the works. 

Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

And then there's everything we don't know… 

Despite all of the facts we have now, there's much to be discovered about COVID-19, such as whether or not you can become immune to the virus; how it affects children; how or if countries can achieve herd immunity; how the virus is most effectively treated; and, perhaps most troubling, how long COVID-19 will be around and -- if it ever disappears -- whether it can come back for another round. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.