13 Common Coronavirus Questions—Answered by Experts
There is still a lot of confusion surrounding COVID-19. Here are some helpful answers from the experts.
Among the many hardships presented by the coronavirus pandemic is the uncertainty and confusion that have come with it. For the most part, people across the globe have responded in a remarkably responsible manner, staying at home and practicing safe social distancing designed to effectively curb the contagion. But for many, staying home means consuming a seriously high volume of news—and the lack of clear information about some basic coronavirus questions can be, at times, frustrating and frightening.
So we looked to the experts in this pandemic—Anthony Fauci, MD, the head of National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—for the most up-to-date answers to some of the basic coronavirus FAQs you need answered. Unfortunately, there are still some things we do not know definitively, but these facts will hopefully bring you some clarity during this very scary time.
Is coronavirus airborne?
There has been plenty of recent debate as to whether or not coronavirus is airborne. And though medical experts are still trying to get to the bottom of that, Fauci says it's not the main way the virus spreads. The primary way COVID-19 is transmitted is through droplets—i.e. the saliva or nasal mucus that might land on you if you were standing close to an infected person who coughed or sneezed.
"COVID-19 can spread by droplets and even by what we call aerosol, which means the drop doesn't go down right away [in the air]. It hangs around for a bit. So you could come into a room thinking everything is all right, and then you inhale it," Fauci told Trevor Noah on the Mar. 26 episode of Noah's at-home The Daily Show. "That's likely not the primary way. The primary way is probably droplets."
How long does it stay on hard surfaces?
Scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the CDC, UCLA, and Princeton University conducted a recent study that determined that COVID-19 lasts anywhere from three hours to three days on a multitude of surfaces, depending on the material. They found that the coronavirus can live on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days, on cardboard and paper up to a day, and on copper for four hours.
Is it safe to receive packages?
Many people have been concerned as to whether or not it's safe to touch their mail or cardboard boxes. And while the aforementioned study did note COVID-19 can remain on paper and cardboard for up to 24 hours, Fauci says again not to worry about this kind of contraction.
"I don't think we need to get completely obsessed about packages that come in, because those types of surfaces… the virus might live there for a very short time," Fauci told Noah. "But people say, 'Should I get a package from a grocery store that says "Made in China"?' I wouldn't worry about that. That's not the issue."
Should everyday people be wearing masks?
When the coronavirus pandemic started, medical experts cautioned the public from stockpiling masks to avoid creating a shortage among public health care workers. It's unlikely that wearing a mask in public will keep one from catching the contagion, but it does likely keep the virus from spreading if you are positive for COVID-19.
Whether or not civilians should start wearing masks is a topic currently being debated amongst the experts at the CDC. "The CDC group is looking at that very carefully," Fauci told CNN's Jim Sciutto on Mar. 31.
"The thing that has inhibited that a bit is to make sure we don't take away the supply of masks from the health care workers who need them," Fauci said. "But once we get in a situation where we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about more broadening this recommendation of using masks. We're not there yet, but I think we're close to coming to some determination."
If I have COVID-19 symptoms, should I go to the ER?
In short, no—not before you speak to a doctor. "If someone right now gets flu-like symptoms—a fever, aches, and a bit of a cough—the first thing you do is stay at home," Fauci said in an Instagram Live interview with NBA star Steph Curry. "Don't go to the emergency room because then you might be infecting others. Get on the phone with a physician, nurse, or health care provider. Get instructions from them on what to do. … But the critical issue is don't flood the emergency rooms."
How can I get tested for COVID-19?
If you are genuinely concerned about your health, like Fauci said, the CDC suggests you first contact your primary care physician for testing options. If that's not an option, contact local or state health authorities online or via phone. The truth is, not everyone with COVID-19 symptoms needs to be tested right off the bat. Depending on where you live, the coronavirus test may be readily available, or in case of shortage, it may be held for health care workers and civil servants.
Are young people at risk of getting coronavirus?
Yes, the elderly and immune-compromised communities are at a greater risk. But the coronavirus is also taking victims of nearly every age, so being young does not make one any less vulnerable to COVID-19. "We are starting to see young individuals in their 30s and their 40s who have no underlying condition that would predispose them to complications who are getting very seriously ill, requiring intensive care," Fauci told CNN.
"Overwhelmingly, it's still the elderly and those with underlying conditions," he added. "But that's one of the pleas we make to the younger people. Don't think that you're exempt from not only serious illness but from the fact that you might be spreading the infection."
Fauci talked more about coronavirus and young people in his interview with Noah. "Even though you are young, you are not absolutely invulnerable," he said. He added that even though young people may not become seriously ill due to COVID-19, "you can infect another person, who would then infect a vulnerable person, who would then die. … You go home, you infect grandma, grandpa, and your sick uncle. So you have a responsibility not only to protect yourself but you almost have a societal, moral responsibility to protect other people."
Are malaria drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine, a cure for coronavirus?
There have been multiple reports that malaria drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine, would be the panacea to cure the world of COVID-19. These drugs have had some anecdotal benefits in some people, but as Fauci pointed out in his interview with CNN, these are not proven clinical studies.
"There is no definitive evidence that this works," Fauci said. "If you want to get back to the science and you look at the data, you need a controlled trial to be able to definitively say something works. And we have not had that with those drugs."
In his interview with Noah, Fauci added, "There are a number of clinical trials that are trying to—by randomized control trials—get a definitive answer as to what works and what does [not] … There are drugs that are already approved for other things, like hydroxychloroquine for malaria and for certain autoimmune diseases, that there have been anecdotal stories. By 'anecdotal,' I mean people kind of think they work, but they haven't really proven they work. That's really gotten out there on the internet. So, people are very enthusiastic since generally, these drugs appear to be safe, and they are, but they do have some toxicities."
Simply put, Fauci said, "There is no proven, safe, and effective direct therapy for coronavirus disease." And while there is hope that something like hydroxychloroquine might work eventually, it's not yet proven and that's not something we can expect will change anytime soon.
What does it mean to "flatten the curve"?
"Flattening the curve" is a term you may have been hearing a lot of lately. The "curve" refers to the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time, LiveScience notes. If the curve is steep, that means the virus spreads exponentially—infecting pretty much everyone who can be infected—and then drops off quickly, too. But the faster the curve rises, the faster the health care system gets overloaded and cannot meet the needs of patients. But with a flatter curve, the same number of people may ultimately get infected with COVID-19, but over a longer period of time, allowing the health care system to treat patients effectively.
And once we're on the other side of that curve, that's when life can return to normal. "You need to see the trajectory of the curve start to come down," Fauci told Curry. "We've seen that in China—they went up and down [and now] they're starting to get back to normal life. They've got to be careful they don't reintroduce the virus, but they're on the other end of the curve."
How long will the self-quarantining last?
Of course, no one can predict the future. What we do know, however, is that the initial guidelines for staying at home were for 15 days, in hopes that the growth of the outbreak would be under control. But that was not enough time. President Donald Trump announced last weekend that he was extending the self-distancing and stay-at-home guidelines until the end of April. But even in the best-case scenario, it seems like long odds that everything will return to normal by April 30.
The "curves" in hot spots like New York City, Washington state, and New Orleans have still not peaked, and experts are strongly suggesting that new hot spots will soon crop up across the nation. The hope, of course, is that social distancing policies in areas that are not yet hot spots will make the outbreak in latter-stricken communities grow at a much lesser and healthier rate. But no one knows for sure.
Would a second wave of coronavirus be as bad as or worse than the first?
There is growing concern of a "second wave" of COVID-19 that may be worse than this current first wave. Fauci told CNN that "there is a reasonably good chance we will [see a second wave] given the pervasiveness of this infection and its transmissibility." But, the good news is, he doesn't think a second wave would be as bad because "we have other things in our favor. We have better equipment, we'll be able to deal with it better."
Once infected, are you immune to getting COVID-19 again?
There are no certainties, but if you get sick once from coronavirus, it's unlikely you will get it again. "We don't know that for 100 percent certain… But I feel really confident that if this virus acts like every other virus that we know, once you get infected, get better, clear the virus, then you'll have immunity that will protect you against reinfection," Fauci said. "So it's never 100 percent, but I'd be willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection."
How long will it take to develop a vaccine?
As Fauci told Curry, the full process for vaccine development takes about a year or a year and a half. According to Fauci, the first phase of vaccine testing takes three to four months and the second takes eight months, totaling a year to a year and a half. "The first thing you've got to do is make sure it's safe. When you find out it's safe and that it induces the kind of response you want it to, then you do it in a lot of people," Fauci said. "The first trial is, like, 45 people. Then you go into hundreds, if not thousands, of people. That's what takes the extra eight months… If we really push, we hope that we will know by the time we get into next winter whether or not we have something that works."