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COVID questions: Influenza comparison, selling home precautions

October 29, 2020 By Kristina LeVan

Editor’s note: We will be publishing answers to questions about COVID-19 and the pandemic each week in this COVID questions column. If you have a question, please email it to

Q: Can you explain the difference between COVID and influenza?

A: There are seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause very mild respiratory symptoms. The other three — SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 — can create a more severe respiratory illness. Coronaviruses are RNA viruses, a large group that includes influenza virus, hepatitis C virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1), rhinovirus, and Ebola virus.

SARS-CoV-2, also commonly referred to as the novel coronavirus, causes the disease called COVID-19 and is at the heart of the current global pandemic. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 strongly resembles infection with other respiratory viruses, including influenza.

– Robert Kirchdoerfer, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry. Read more from Kirchdoerfer’s piece highlighting the eight things everyone should know about coronaviruses.

Q: We are selling our home, and potential buyers will be visiting it briefly during specified times. They will be wearing masks, and we will not be present, and I will use disinfectant wipes to clean anything I think they may have touched. But, I am worried about the fact that they will be in our living space. Do we need to wait a few hours before we re-enter our home? How much risk does this situation pose, and can you suggest other actions we could take to minimize the risk?

A: Out of an abundance of caution, I would have the fan on your furnace running continuously before/during/after the visit to pass all of the air through the furnace filter. It would also be a good idea to open a few windows after people have left to force circulation and get outside air into your living spaces. You could then wait an hour or so before reentering for peace of mind. This is the approach that we take if we have to have a repair person visit our house.

– Timothy Bertram, professor of chemistry; Affiliate Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Environmental Chemistry and Technology

See more answers to COVID questions at Also, visit our COVID-19 impact site.