COVID-19: Answering Your Frequently Asked Questions
Editor’s note: This post was first published April 17 and updated 2:40 p.m. April 23, with confirmation of the first domestic pet cases.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Since then, national and local officials have worked to curb the spread of the virus by issuing stay-at-home orders and implementing social distancing. Despite ongoing coverage and media updates, people still have questions about the prevention of COVID-19 and potential treatments.
Below, you’ll find answers to your most frequently asked COVID-related questions:
Question: If you have previously tested positive for COVID-19, been in quarantine for 14 days, and symptoms have stopped, are you considered cleared/healed? Also, can you be re-infected with the virus again?
Answer: The first thing you should do is ask your primary care physician’s advice regarding your personal treatment plan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have had COVID-19 can discontinue self-isolation if they’ve been fever-free for 72 hours without the use of medication, other symptoms have improved, and at least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared. We know that with other coronaviruses, being infected confers some future immunity. However, because COVID-19 is new and not yet fully understood, it’s impossible to know with any certainty if individuals can become re-infected at some future point with this particular strain.
Q: Can the virus live on objects, clothing, or plastics? If so, how long can it survive?
A: According to the CDC, current evidence suggests that novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. It is theoretically possible that one can touch a freshly contaminated surface and then touch one’s face and thus transfer the infection. However, per the CDC, transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from contaminated surfaces has not been documented. Transmission of coronavirus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze. Still, the cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.
Q: What alternatives can I use when masks aren’t available?
A: Surgical masks and N-95 respirators are critical supplies intended for health care workers and other medical personnel. The CDC recommends the general public continue to practice social distancing, while wearing cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus. Cloth masks can be made from common household items and low-cost fabrics.
Q: What does “social distancing” mean? Shouldn’t it be “physical distancing”?
A: The phrase “social distancing” has been used interchangeably with “physical distancing.” It’s still the act of keeping the recommended amount of space between yourself and people outside your home. It’s important to avoid mass gatherings and stay at least six feet away from others when in public areas. If possible, don’t use public transit and only go out for essential items like food or medications.
Q: Can I transfer COVID-19 to my pet or my pet transfer it to me ?
A: It’s very rare for coronaviruses to spread from animal to person. But on April 22, it was announced that two cats (located in New York) tested positive for COVID-19. Previously, the CDC had been notified of a small number of cases outside of the United States. Viral transmission between humans and animals is still under investigation. As a precaution, people who are infected or suspect they’re infected should avoid contact with both animals and humans.
Q: Can the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine be used to treat COVID-19?
A: Historically, hydroxychloroquine has been used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory conditions. Due to its antiviral properties, the drug is being investigated as a potential treatment for COVID-19. As of April 2020, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says there is still a need for significant studies to prove if hydroxychloroquine can safely and effectively combat the virus. Also, Michigan Medicine does not support the use of any specific treatment regime for confirmed COVID-19 at this time.
Q: Why can’t the flu vaccine be used to treat COVID-19?
A: Influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms (i.e. fever, dry cough and body aches) but different origins. COVID-19 is caused by one virus, SARS-CoV-2, whereas the flu is caused by multiple strains of influenza viruses. COVID-19 is also much more contagious and spreads faster and farther than the flu. Although, clinical trials and vaccines are in development, there is no official treatment for COVID-19.
Q: Is wearing gloves effective against the virus? How do I avoid cross-contamination?
A: Disposable gloves should be worn when treating a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient. That includes the handling of the person’s clothing and belongings. You should also wear them when cleaning the home, throwing out trash and pumping gasoline. Gloves have not been advised for general errands such as grocery shopping due to the high probability of cross-contamination. People may unknowingly spread germs by touching multiple items/surfaces and then their faces. Gloves should be used once, properly removed and then disposed. Reusable gloves should be restricted to a single task and thoroughly cleaned after each use.
Q: How often should I be washing my clothes, coats, sheets, etc.?
A: Clothing should be washed regularly and in accordance to the manufacturer’s direction. The CDC recommends using the highest appropriate temperature setting and allowing the clothes to dry completely. As a precaution, avoid shaking or ruffling laundry to prevent the potential dispersal of the virus in the air.
Q: How do I keep my family safe if I’m an essential employee?
A: Essential employees include health care professionals, police officers and fireman as well as farmers, grocery store workers and airline personnel. Depending on the level of exposure, familial protocol may vary by person. Some doctors/nurses who interact with COVID-19 patients choose to self-quarantine by staying in a separate room and limiting contact with loved ones. They may also carry a separate change of clothes and shoes to wear after each shift. Other preventive measures include leaving all work-related items on site. If possible, showering at work or immediately after arriving home. Disinfecting commonly touched items like phones, keys and ID badges. More importantly, continuing to follow the CDC’s recommended steps for hygiene and cleaning.
Q: I had SARS in Dec. 2002 after traveling in China. What are my chances of contracting the current coronavirus now?
A: COVID-19 is from the coronavirus family, and can occur in people and animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect humans and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now with this new virus (named SARS-CoV-2). It is unclear at this time if previous exposure to SARS would offer any sort of immunity against this new strain of coronavirus.
For the latest updates on COVID-19, including case counts and public safety guidelines, please visit: Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need to Know.
This content has been reviewed and approved by Dr. S. George Kipa, deputy chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
More from MIBluesPerspectives.com:
- How to Stay Safe While Grocery Shopping and Ordering Takeout
- Why Medication Adherence is Important for People at a High Risk for COVID-19
- Are You Washing Your Hands the Right Way?
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