15 Common Coronavirus (COVID-19) Questions

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By now, you may understand the basics of the new coronavirus (COVID-19): It’s a respiratory disease caused by a new virus, SARS-CoV-2, to which humans do not have immunity. And it’s spreading fast enough to be called a pandemic. But there are still plenty of unknowns and plenty of rumors. We’ve rounded up some of the questions we’ve been hearing that can be answered at this time. 

1

How can you get tested for the new coronavirus?

You need a doctor’s order to get a COVID-19 swab test. But even if your doctor would like to have you tested, a limited number of tests and overcrowded healthcare facilities have made the criteria for getting tested quite strict. Displaying symptoms like a cough or fever is generally not enough in an otherwise healthy person to warrant a test. Those who are already hospitalized, who have chronic conditions, or have been recently exposed to an infected person or region will take priority. 

Regardless of whether or not you think you’re eligible for a test, if you’re concerned about having COVID-19, you should contact your healthcare provider. They can tell you the appropriate next steps based on your history and the area where you live. More tests are being developed, and the goal is to test everybody who needs to be tested. Use our printable Doctor Discussion Guide below to help prepare for your appointment.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Woman
2

Is loss of smell a COVID-19 symptom that warrants a doctor's appointment?

A statement released on March 21 by ENT UK at The Royal College of Surgeons of England suggests that anosmia, or the loss of the sense of smell, occurs in significant numbers of COVID-19 cases, and may even be the only symptom in some patients. Author Claire Hopkins, President of the British Rhinological Society, suggests anosmia "could be used as a screening tool to help identify otherwise asymptomatic patients, who could then be better instructed on self-isolation."

Hopkins concedes many people with anosmia probably just have typical rhinovirus and coronavirus strains—in other words, the common cold. Regardless, asking everyone who has lost their sense of smell to self-isolate would be one more important way to stop COVID-19 transmission.

With that in mind, self-isolation is a good place to start if you've lost your sense of smell, rather than heading to the doctor's office.

"While the UK ENT information regarding loss of smell and/or taste is interesting, it is not something we could offer a test for at this time," Kristin Englund, MA, an adult infectious diseases specialist with Cleveland Clinic, tells Verywell. "We are prioritizing high-risk patients for testing. If a person experiences anosmia, it is reasonable to distance themselves from others, especially those over age 60 and those with chronic medical illnesses, as the symptom could indicate any number of viruses, including COVID-19."

3

How long does COVID-19 live on different surfaces?

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine offers the following timeframes for how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes the COVID-19 disease) can remain viable on various surfaces:

Aerosols (fine droplets suspended in air): 3 hours

Copper: 4 hours

Cardboard: 24 hours

Plastic: 3 days

Stainless steel: 3 days

4

Is it true that ibuprofen is unsafe to take if you think you have COVID-19 symptoms?

This rumor’s origin and resolution (at least for now) can both be found on Twitter. On March 14, French health minister Olivier Véran tweeted a warning that ibuprofen could potentially worsen symptoms of the new coronavirus. His tweet followed the publication of an article in the medical journal The Lancet. While the scope of the article was about the link between both high blood pressure and diabetes and COVID-19, it mentioned that an enzyme called ACE2—which coronaviruses use to bind to cells—can increase in amount when you take ibuprofen. In other words, the article suggested taking ibuprofen would increase the number of enzymes the COVID-19 virus had the opportunity to bind to. 

Currently, there is not enough research to back this idea. While many articles claimed WHO advised against ibuprofen, its only official statement—issued on Twitter on March 18—says otherwise.

“At present, based on currently available information, WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen. We are also consulting with physicians treating COVID-19 patients and are not aware of reports of any negative effects of ibuprofen, beyond the usual known side effects that limit its use in certain populations. WHO is not aware of published clinical or population-based data on this topic.” — World Health Organization

5

Is it true that only someone with COVID-19 symptoms can pass it on?

The World Health Organization (WHO) director-general previously suggested people already displaying COVID-19 symptoms—such as coughing, fever, or shortness of breath—were the biggest drivers of viral transmission. In other words, if you’re not showing symptoms, it’s not likely you can pass the virus on. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) backs this idea, adding that some spread may be possible before people show symptoms, although that’s not the main way the virus spreads. It's estimated that 25% of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

One example of potential COVID-19 spread prior to symptoms includes the Biogen company meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, which has been pinpointed as the source of most cases in the state. Over 100 employees from all over the world—and now, their close contacts—have tested positive for COVID-19 in the days and weeks after attending the meeting. Supposedly, nobody showed symptoms during the two-day conference in February where it initially spread. An investigation into the conference—as well as a closer look at symptom status—is ongoing.

Globally, researchers are highlighting other examples of COVID-19 transmission that may have occurred before people showed symptoms. While published ahead of peer-review and print, an analysis of data from Singapore suggests 48% of cases resulted from pre-symptomatic transmission. The same study puts that statistic at 62% for cases in Tianjin, China.

6

Should you cancel any routine doctor’s appointments unrelated to COVID-19?

Healthcare providers have mixed opinions on keeping routine appointments right now, and it may depend on where you live. As for Dr. Khabbaza? He recommends rescheduling or trying telemedicine.

“We would recommend, for the time being, cancelling all non-essential in-person doctor's appointments,” he says. “Many health systems are now providing free virtual visits to take the place of the office visits, allowing you to see your doctor from home. If virtual options are not available with your doctor, check with them to see if they feel it is appropriate for you to push back your appointment. This advice holds especially true for those older than 60, but I would advise anyone to avoid healthcare facilities unless truly needed.”

7

Is COVID-19 going to become seasonal? Can you get it twice in one season?

The 2009 swine flu pandemic occurred because of an outbreak of a new type of influenza A virus: H1N1. But now, H1N1 is considered a normal type of seasonal flu. Since COVID-19 is the result of a new type of coronavirus—SARS-CoV-2—it’s logical to think the same thing might happen, and that it could become less severe in years to come. But experts think it’s too soon to say.

“As of now, it is too early for us to know if this will be a seasonal virus that changes slightly from year to year like influenza does,” Joseph Khabbaza, MD, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells Verywell. “If similar to other respiratory viruses, it is unlikely to get COVID-19 twice in one season.”

8

What does “flattening the curve” mean?

flatten the coronavirus curve
 Drew Harris

Either the phrase “flattening the curve” or an image of the curve itself might be familiar. The origin of this graph is pretty complex; a population health analyst named Drew A. Harris, DPM, MPH, pulled information from a CDC paper, The Economist, and his own experience as a pandemic preparedness instructor to create it. But the concept behind it is relatively simple. 

Without the proper protections in place, our society will see a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases that is way too high for our healthcare systems to facilitate. As a result, not everyone will get adequate treatment, and more people will die. The alternative? Put protective measures in place—like social distancing—that prevent that spike from happening. COVID-19 will spread more slowly, allowing doctors, researchers, and other healthcare professionals enough time and resources to react. The duration of the virus in the community will be longer, but it will be more manageable.

9

What does it mean to "shelter in place?”

Sheltering in place is a safety precaution that is sometimes used in conjunction with natural disasters or other emergencies. Generally, people are asked to remain in an indoor location until it is safe to go outside. If you and your loved ones are asked to "shelter in place" in connection with COVID-19, this means that you should stay home unless you need to go outside for an essential reason, such as to get food or seek medical aid. If you have an essential job, you may be asked to still commute to work.

You should not congregate in groups, and you should stay at least six feet away from others outside your home. Your local government's instructions will provide more detailed information. Some communities in the U.S., including San Francisco, have asked community members to shelter in place as a way to limit the amount of possible COVID-19 infections. Staying put indoors helps communities stay safe as a whole.

10

Can kids get COVID-19?

While children can get the new coronavirus, both the WHO and the CDC report they’re much less likely to contract it than adults. If they do, symptoms will be the same, but will likely be milder, and could potentially include diarrhea and vomiting.

Adults should be less concerned about catching COVID-19 from a child than they should be about potentially spreading it to a child. According to the WHO, “preliminary data from household transmission studies in China suggest that children are infected from adults, rather than vice versa.”

11

Can pets infect humans with COVID-19?

COVID-19 is part of a larger group of coronaviruses. Some viruses in this group can cause illness in animals, including livestock, camels, and bats. While it's rare, those infections can spread to humans, as was the case with older coronaviruses SARS and MERS. Is animal to human transmission also possible with COVID-19?

While it's possible (but unconfirmed) that COVID-19 originally spread from an animal to a human, the CDC has no evidence that livestock, wild animals, or pets are causing its spread in the U.S. at this time.

But what about the other way around: Can people spread COVID-19 to animals? The confirmed case in a Bronx Zoo tiger says yes; the tiger contracted the disease from a zookeeper.

Two cats in two different areas of New York State marked the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pets in the U.S., the CDC announced on April 22. Both are expected to make a full recovery. Only one is owned by a human who tested positive for COVID-19.

A pug owned by a North Carolina family infected with COVID-19 is the first known dog in the US to test positive for the disease. The family participated in Duke University's Molecular and Epidemiological Study of Suspected Infection (MESSI). The dog's symptoms—sneezing and a lack of appetite—only lasted for a few days.

The CDC maintains it is still very unlikely that pets can pass COVID-19 to humans. For the safety of your pets, do not let them interact with people or other animals outside of your household at this time.

It is not uncommon for cats and dogs to get their own strains of coronavirus: feline coronavirus and canine coronavirus. However, these are short-lived intestinal infections with no link to COVID-19 and no risk to humans.

12

Is food delivery safe right now?

While we can’t be the judge of whether or not your favorite local restaurant is taking all necessary sanitary precautions, we can ask a doctor for their opinion. 

“Having food delivered is felt to be safe at this time, but an emphasis on disinfecting and avoiding close contact with people remains,” Dr. Khabbaza says. He offers three tips for food delivery:

  1. Ask to have the food delivered to your doorstep rather than directly handed to you
  2. Wipe down any food container with a disinfectant 
  3. Wash your hands immediately after accepting the delivery and handling the container
13

Can mosquitos transmit COVID-19?

According to the WHO, there is no evidence that mosquitos can pass on COVID-19. It's a respiratory disease, not a blood-borne disease, and is currently known to spread through droplets discharged by coughing, sneezing, and runny noses.

14

Are swimming pools safe?

The CDC says there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through pools and hot tubs. Normal care and maintenance, like using chlorine or bromine, should inactivate or remove any viruses.

15

Can COVID-19 live in hotter climates?

While no studies on this subject have been peer-reviewed yet—meaning they still need to be vetted for validity—a few suggest that COVID-19 seems to thrive within a cooler temperature range. 

For example, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that the majority of COVID-19 transmissions globally have occurred between 3°C and 13°C (37.4 to 55.4°F). Fewer than 5% of cases have occurred in areas where average temperatures were greater than 18°C (64.4°F) throughout January, February, and March.

According to the MIT researchers, “the north-south divide observed in the U.S. further suggests that transmission of 2019-nCoV virus might be less efficient at warmer temperatures and therefore with approaching summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, the spread of 2019-nCoV might decline in the next few months.”

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