Google’s Top Trending COVID-19 Searches, Answered

Photographed by Jessica Xie.
Each year Google releases their data of the top trending searches. Their lists, called the Year in Search, calls out the queries that had high spikes in traffic. And while in 2019 we Googled all sorts of fun things — from perineum sunning to CBD — this year, many of our searches had one distinct theme: COVID-19. And it's no wonder. The pandemic has taken the lives of over one-and-a-half million people across the globe. Of course it's on our minds.
Below are Google's top trending COVID-related searches of 2020. They reflect how far we've come since the earliest days of the pandemic (we know so much more about how the virus is transmitted, for instance) but also highlight how much we still have to learn. Here's our guide to the COVID-19 questions that made Google's Year In Search list for 2020.

What is coronavirus?

We all probably searched for this a time or two. The answer: Coronavirus isn't one, specific kind of illness — it's a catch-all term for viral types of respiratory viruses, and they can sometimes cause disease. Coronaviruses can range from the common cold to MERS and SARS. And, of course, a newly identified coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, caused a global pandemic of COVID-19, which is what we've been dealing with for the past year.

How long does coronavirus last?

Most people who develop COVID-19 symptoms typically recover without treatment in two to six weeks, according to the World Health Organization. Some people may feel the effects of COVID-19 for longer than that, though. A recent study found that two to three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, 35% of people still didn't feel back to normal. What's more, Paul Pottinger, MD, director of the Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine Clinic at the UW Medical Center, previously told Refinery29 that one in four people who'd had the SARS-CoV-1 virus (a strain similar to SARS-CoV-2) were still experiencing symptoms a month after recovery.
We're still learning more about why some people experience lingering symptoms of COVID-19. The good news is, Dr. Pottinger told Refinery29 that people who deal with symptoms like a loss of smell or shortness of breath for weeks and months after they've been ill have a good chance of fully recovering — it just takes time.

What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently list fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea as the symptoms of COVID-19. The CDC also lists emergency warning signs of COVID: trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in chest, new confusion, inability to stay awake, and bluish lips or face. If you experience any of the emergency symptoms, you'll want to seek medical attention ASAP.
This is by no means an exhaustive list — some people have experienced other symptoms such as a metallic taste in their mouths. These symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

How long does coronavirus live on surfaces?

In the beginning of the pandemic, many of us were wiping down surfaces constantly, disinfecting our countertops (and groceries), and wearing gloves on the reg. While these are all still good precautions to take, and the CDC does say, "current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials."
That said, in May the CDC stated that the virus is mostly transmitted via respiratory droplets, not surfaces. "Respiratory viruses don’t infect through your skin, they infect through your mucous membranes: the eyes, nose, and mouth," Julie Vaishampayan, MD, chairwoman of the public health committee for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said in an interview in The New York Times. As long as you're keeping surfaces clean, washing your hands, social distancing, and not touching your face, you shouldn't be worrying too much about catching the virus from a surface.

How is coronavirus spread?

This has been a major source of confusion throughout the pandemic, but we know much more now than we did in March. As we mentioned earlier, the CDC now knows that the virus travels from person to person through respiratory droplets, which are the little beads of water, mucus, and saliva are produced when someone coughs, sneezes, or even talks. If the person who releases the respiratory droplets has been infected with the virus, then those droplets contain SARS-CoV-2, too.
The disease spreads when those droplets wind up near someone else's ears, eyes, nose, or mouth. So if you are speaking at close range with someone for a long period of time, and your conversation partner has COVID-19, enough of their droplets may end up near enough to your face for you to inhale them, infecting you. If you touch a surface covered with infected droplets, then touch your mouth or eyes, you could theoretically get infected too — but again, that type of transmission doesn't appear to be super-common.

How long are you contagious with COVID?

The CDC says that you can safely be around others safely 10 days after your symptoms first appear, as long as your symptoms are improving and you haven't had to use a fever-reducing medication in 24 hours. People who had a severe case should give it 20 days.
Your first symptoms tend to appear around three to 14 days after exposure to the virus, and Harvard Health Publishing reports that people are thought to be most contagious around 48 hours before symptoms first appear, which is part of the reason why this virus has been so quick to spread.

Is diarrhea a symptom of COVID-19?

Yes. Though it's not as widely talked about as something like a loss of taste or an odd, metallic taste in the mouth, the CDC currently lists diarrhea as a symptom of COVID-19.

Is there a cure for coronavirus?

There's still no magic bullet cure for COVID-19. But it's looking like a vaccine may be approved soon, and experts have made headway with therapeutics. As of now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one drug, remdesivir, as a treatment for COVID-19. It's only approved to be used on patients who have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and in those cases, it's thought to hasten recovery time.
For those who test positive but don't need a hospital stay, doctors may suggest taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever, drinking lots of water, and resting up.

Is coronavirus airborne?

The CDC currently states that the virus can "sometimes" be spread by airborne transmission. They name three risk factors that seem to increase the likelihood of airborne transmission: being in an enclosed space, having prolonged exposure to respiratory droplets (you may have heard the 15 minute rule), and being in a space with poor ventilation. In these environments, it's possible for the virus to travel more than six feet.
But the CDC also states that the agency, "continues to believe, based on current science, that people are more likely to become infected the longer and closer they are to a person with COVID-19." 

Is sneezing a symptom of COVID-19? 

Right now, sneezing is not listed among the symptoms of COVID-19 on the CDC's website. While it's entirely possible that someone can experience sneezing while being positive for the novel coronavirus, if you're just sneezing and have no other symptoms, you may be dealing with a cold rather than COVID-19.

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