FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — With big events canceled both in Northwest Arkansas and nationwide, there are a lot of questions surrounding COVID-19 also known as the coronavirus. Dr. Mark Thomas, physician at Washington Regional says hospital staff are working as hard as they can to be prepared for the virus.

What do you want people to know about the coronavirus?

Dr. Thomas: I think the most important thing is that everyone is affected. We want people that have symptoms to consider staying home and observing themselves at home, isolating themselves at home, to prevent spread of the outbreak. If you have any questions, call your doctor and get advice. If you’re not doing well, that may mean that you need to come in to see a provider or go to a hospital. Let providers know that you fear you may have been exposed to the virus so that they can take adequate protection.

What are some of the symptoms?

Dr. Thomas: The most important symptoms to think about are the usual symptoms people get with flu or cold. Fever, cough, and possibly shortness of breath.

Who’s most at risk?

Dr. Thomas: The most vulnerable among us. People that are older, who have diabetes, heart disease, lung disease.

The coronavirus is being compared to the flu. Can you talk about the similarities and differences?

Dr. Thomas: Unfortunately, although they’re similar and sometimes we can’t distinguish the symptoms, it’s important to know that the reason we’re all very concerned about the coronavirus is it has considerably more ability to spread. Maybe 20x as much. It has higher, severe effects, especially in vulnerable populations, maybe also 20x as much. That’s why we’re taking this illness very seriously.

Is it something that you get just once? Or can you get it multiple times?

Dr. Thomas: I’m not sure we understand the coronavirus that well. I think that it’s reasonable to assume that people have some short term immunity after having the illness, but it’s too early to say.

How long does the virus last after it has been diagnosed?

Dr. Thomas: Again, we don’t understand [the coronavirus] completely. It’s clear that people can present with symptoms after they’ve been exposed anywhere from two to 14 days. After getting the illness, most people think that the illness will last for a couple of weeks.

What does testing look like? When should people go get tested?

Dr. Thomas: Testing has been a challenge. This is the main concern of most people around the country. Testing is getting available here in Northwest Arkansas. The state health department has testing available as well as private labs. We’re trying to prioritize that for patients obviously sick in the hospital, those patients that are at risk of serious illness, such as people with heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and also screening healthcare workers that may have been exposed.