The results suggested that people exposed to the coronavirus who are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms — not just those with respiratory symptoms — should also be tested. 

“COVID-19 is probably not just respiratory symptoms like a cough,” the authors said. “A third of the patients we studied had gastrointestinal symptoms. It’s possible we may be missing a significant portion of patients sick with the coronavirus due to our current testing strategies focusing on respiratory symptoms alone.”

Other people began reporting a loss of taste or smell, or both — sometimes the only symptoms they experienced. 

Zara Patel, MD, an expert on olfactory disorders, explained why in April. 

“A variety of viruses can attack the cranial nerves related to smell or the mucosal tissue that surrounds those nerves,” she said. “Cranial nerves control things in our head and neck — such as the nerves that allow us to speak by using our vocal cords, control our facial motion, hear and smell.”

Not everyone infected required hospitalization, but experts advised patients to monitor their symptoms closely while isolating themselves at home. Stanford internal medicine and Express Care physician Linda Barman, MD, explained to patients what they should do after receiving a positive test result. COVID-19 is typically at its worst around eight to 10 days after symptoms start, so Barman told them to seek medical care if their breathing became more difficult or if they experienced chest pain.

She also warned people about the “shower sign” — that is, when they can’t muster the strength to take a shower.

 “That’s happened so many times with people who ended up getting really sick,” she said.

Professor of pediatrics Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, and her colleagues reported that vaping markedly increases the risk of developing COVID-19 among teens and young adults — populations that had been thought to be relatively unaffected by the virus. 

“Teens and young adults need to know that if you use e-cigarettes, you are likely at immediate risk of COVID-19 because you are damaging your lungs,” Halpern-Felsher warned.

Other researchers investigated how best to protect oneself from infection. Larry Chu, MD, and Amy Price, PhD, of Stanford’s Anesthesia Informatics and Media Lab worked with the World Health Organization on guidelines for when and how to wear protective cloth masks, and produced a video detailing the best nonmedical materials for those making their own masks.

Throughout the year, mental health experts offered tips about how to deal with anxietyget enough sleep(Instagram video) and maintain healthy coping strategies

“I’ve seen an uptick in stress, a drop of physical activity and dip in social interactions,” said Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, early in the pandemic. “The fallout is likely to exceed the direct harms of COVID-19, but worsening health and well-being also makes us more susceptible to the novel coronavirus and its complications. It’s a good time to take both a break from the news and a few deep, meditative breaths. Don’t let protecting yourself against coronavirus cause your health to take a plunge.” 

Understanding the virus 

As public concern and interest in the coronavirus grew, virologist Jan Carette, PhD, spoke with Stanford Medicine science writer Bruce Goldman about what a virus is. The two-part series was accompanied by a video that explained how a virus co-opts normal cellular processes to reproduce and spread.