Stack Exchange Biology receives many questions about the outbreak of a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV/SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19) that has spread worldwide. This is understandable. However, in many cases these posts are either closed as off-topic for various reasons (e.g. asking for health advice, speculation on number of deaths, suggestions of means to combat the virus), or may not receive a satisfactory answer. In either case, posters may not obtain the information they are seeking.

Therefore, we have created this meta post to explain which questions are on-topic on Biology.SE and direct people to reputable external sources for further information.

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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer — I now see that "too specific" was in my original version. My concern — whether you agree with it or not — was and is about questions being posed that could not receive an authoritative answer and might therefore receive poor or misleading answers. There are few virologists on this site and likely to be none who are experts on coronaviruses. Of course interested contributors can track emerging publications and answer on that basis, but I felt and feel it better to get such summaries from the likes of Nature or Science. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 8:55

2 Answers 2


COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2/coronavirus questions

Personal medical questions (including "what should I do") are as always off topic on every SE site.

On topic questions include:

  • general questions about biological concepts
  • questions about the biological mechanisms behind medical conditions
  • questions about techniques in a biological or biochemical laboratory

Any question that fits the above bullet points is on topic, whether or not it is about coronavirus. A number of our users with various backgrounds have sufficient expertise in virology to answer coronavirus questions that are about concepts, mechanisms, or techniques.

News reports of an epidemic have provoked many medical questions that we are not able to answer:

We are able to answer some questions, provided they meet the standards for this site. Speculative questions are not a good fit for the SE model.

Users with speculative questions in mind should use outside resources (like reputable news reports) to motivate their questions, and then form questions based on the underlying biology: ask about mechanisms and approaches, rather than outcomes or "expert opinions".


I have divided my list of sources by degree of technicality — from standard scientific, popular scientific, to health advice.

Specialized Scientific Sources

  1. Wikipedia has a general article on Coronaviruses including SARS and an article on 2019-nCoV.
    Although Wikipedia articles are only as good as the people who contribute to them (and anyone may do so), in the current circumstances many expert scientists and clinical experts are contributing to these articles and vetting them for inaccuracies or errors. These three articles are also supported by many references to the literature. Together this suggests a high degree of trust can be given to them, with the proviso that the reader checks back frequently for updates.

  2. Nature is one of the two weekly journals of science with the highest international reputation. Although it is a subscription journal, its publisher is making articles on coronavirus freely accessible.
    The section entitled News Explainer has several relevant articles. (There is also a facility to sign up for newsletters, but readers are advised to read the terms and conditions before doing so.)

  3. Science is one of the two weekly journals of science with the highest international reputation, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Although it is a subscription journal, news articles about coronavirus appear to be freely accessible, as exemplified by this one on coronavirus genomes. Using the search facility on the site will no doubt find more articles (There is also a facility to sign up for newsletters, but readers are advised to read the terms and conditions before doing so.)

  4. LitCovid is a curated literature hub for tracking up-to-date scientific information about the 2019 novel Coronavirus. It is administered by the US National Institutes of Health, and claims to be “the most comprehensive resource on the subject, providing a central access to [a large number of] relevant articles in PubMed”. The main divisions are General Information, Mechanism, Transmission, Treatment, Case Report and Epidemic Forecasting.

Popular Scientific Sources

  1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) CDC is a component of the US Department of Health and Human Services intended to counter health, safety and security threats to the US. It can therefore be regarded as an expert and reputable source of information.
    It has an extensive section with a Situation Summary on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus including infomation for travellers, healthcare professionals, public health professionals and laboratories.

  2. BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation is a state-funded but independent broadcasting organization which is one of the most respected in the world. Despite there being much popular trivia on its website, in my opinion, it currently is running articles on the coronavirus outbreak in which it is clearly aiming to provide a high standard of objective news.
    A current article at the time of posting is actually about misinformation on the web. It also contains a link to answers to a series of questions about the virus and the outbreak. There is a form on the latter page to pose a question of your own to experts.

Reputable Health Advice

  1. The World Health Organization (WHO) Obviously advice for from this international health organization is likely to be trustworthy.
    This appears to be the main page on the outbreak, and is available in many languages.

  2. The National Health Service (NHS) This is the British public health provider whose web advice is based on the opinion of its experts.
    There is a page on the coronavirus outbreak here.

  3. National Institutes of Health (NIH) This is the US Government-funded Health research organization with an outstanding international reputation.
    There is a page on the coronavirus outbreak here.

These latter two sources are in English (or also Spanish for 3) and relate particularly to the countries issuing them. Official sources of health advice in other countries should be included as comments or separate answers.


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