The coronavirus pandemic is creating uncertainty and challenges. The scientific understanding of the virus is evolving, and new restrictions and guidance arrive on a daily basis.
We are here to answer key questions for you. We will explore questions of safety, science and best practices. Check back regularly as we update this FAQ in the days and weeks ahead. If there's anything you would like answered, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Select a topic below to see answers to commonly asked questions about:
Masks and Protective Equipment
Should I wear a mask and/or gloves in public?
Americans should wear face coverings when in public, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended April 3 — a reversal from the prior government position that doing so is ineffective.
And as of April 17 in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that everyone must wear face coverings in public to help control COVID-19, which is spread by droplets exchanged between people.
The latest advice, to wear a rudimentary covering like a bandanna or scarf, came after weeks of dismissing the effectiveness of masks.
In announcing his own reversal of New York City's guidance, Mayor Bill de Blasio said April 2 the change was due to new research, including one study from Singapore, showing that coronavirus-infected people without symptoms might still be contagious.
(He said he didn't want to use the word "mask," to avoid furthering a shortage of masks needed for medical personnel treating the outbreak.)
Since the outbreak began, some officials, including U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, had counseled against wearing face masks in public. ("They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can't get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!" he tweeted Feb. 29.)
Adams maintained that position through much of March before beginning to backtrack.
The federal government's public shift began around March 31, as Anthony Fauci, one of the government's top infectious disease doctors on the task force, said that the government was giving "very serious consideration" to the recommendation of face coverings.
Some other countries experiencing the outbreak encourage and even mandate the wearing of masks. South Korea, Singapore and Japan have distributed face masks for the public to wear. And in parts of China, such as Wuhan — where the outbreak is thought to have begun — anyone not wearing a mask in public could face arrest.
In the past, the CDC had recommended use of masks under certain circumstances — for instance, if there's a community outbreak of an infectious disease such as the flu, a person is at heightened risk and they must enter a crowded setting.
A 2017 study published about Japan in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports found that masks helped reduce transmission of influenza in schoolchildren.
Fauci said March 31 that a complication preventing guidance to wear masks is the shortage among health care workers who need the masks. — MATTHEW CHAYES and ZACHARY R. DOWDY
How about wearing gloves?
Dr. Fred Davis, associate chair of emergency medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, said gloves were “almost like an extension of your hand if you’re not changing them after every interaction."
"So, while you think they’re great for maybe some things you might get your hands soiled with … make sure you take them off after that, and washing your hands would be the best course," he said. "In public, if you walk around without gloves, you’re probably OK as long as you’re washing your hands before eating or touching your face.”
If I wear a mask out in public can I safely wear it again? And how should I store it?
You can wear masks again if you follow a couple simple steps, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Medicine.
First, take the mask off properly: Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth when removing the mask, and wash your hands immediately when done, according to the CDC website.
Fries recommends cleaning your cloth mask each time you wear it. A washing machine is fine for this purpose, according to the CDC.
The University of Utah Health website offers more detailed guidance, recommending you use hot water and detergent that leaves no residue. As an alternative to a washing machine, that website recommends disinfecting your cloth mask by soaking for five minutes in a solution of two tablespoons of bleach per quart of water or 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water.
Hanging to air-dry is fine, according to the website.
Another effective option is to thoroughly scrub the mask in soap and water. (Remember, one reason that hand washing works so well is that vigorous motion breaks the virus apart.)
And as Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology, immunology and pediatrics at the University of Iowa notes, drying masks in a warm oven — set at 150 to 160 degrees — for half an hour or so is another useful strategy.
In between trips, Fries said in an email, “masks for reuse should be stored in a paper lunch bag that is clean and breathable to reduce the potential for microbial growth. — NICHOLAS SPANGLER and JOAN GRALLA
Can I use a plastic face shield instead of a cloth mask?
Yes, said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology, immunology and pediatrics at the University of Iowa.
“That’s what I wear in my office,” he said.
Health care workers, now all too often called on to imperil themselves by performing intubations and other hazardous treatments, wear N95 masks under face shields. Members of the general public, however — who are asked to reserve N95 masks for health care workers as they are still in short supply — should not need to wear both.
Soap and water likely is the best way to clean these shields, as bleach or other disinfectants might destroy the plastic.
Two cautions: Plastic shields may not fit well over sunglasses. And on windy days, face shields can get blown around a bit, Perlman said. — JOAN GRALLA
How can I properly dispose of latex gloves and “flushable” wipes?
Throw them in the trash. While many wipes are advertised as flushable, sanitation experts say they can overwhelm the sewage system.
Wipes, which often look similar to toilet paper, are generally made from a tougher material and soaked in chemicals and disinfectants. These wipes do not readily disintegrate in water, often creating blockages, according to Nadine Leslie, chief executive of SUEZ North America, which operates Nassau County’s wastewater treatment plants.
“Latex gloves and flushable wipes, which are being used by people sometimes to clean doorknobs, countertops, and other surfaces, are a growing hazard to public health,” she said. “We fully understand that disinfection is so important now because of COVID-19, but we are seeing a large increase in people disposing of these gloves and wipes in their toilet instead of in the garbage.”
Long Islanders should also stop flushing cigarette butts, dental floss, hair and unwanted medication down the toilet, Leslie said. — ROBERT BRODSKY
Is there an effort to get regular testing for first responders as well as their immediate family members who reside in the same household?
Although dozens of Long Island police officers, correction officers, police medics and firefighters have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said there was no wholesale mandatory testing of all first responders and their families.
But Nassau and Suffolk agencies are taking steps to protect their staff and the public.
Law enforcement, correction officers, medics and firefighters responding to emergencies — and who cannot easily socially distance from members of the public — have been provided gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment, according to police officials.
But the best way to protect first responders is for members of the public to shelter at home and practice social distancing, according to law enforcement officials. — ROBERT BRODSKY
What are some symptoms to look for that would reassure someone they do not have the coronavirus without getting tested?
Some COVID-19 symptoms — including fever, body aches, severe cough and fatigue — can often be confused with the flu, according to medical experts.
But coronavirus patients also typically experience shortness of breath, which is less common with the flu. The virus, experts say, generally affects the respiratory tract, while the flu attacks the entire body.
Meanwhile, symptoms such as itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny nose are more synonymous with the common cold or seasonal allergies than COVID-19, medical professionals say. — ROBERT BRODSKY
How long does it take to get coronavirus test results?
It depends on the type of test.
Results from swab diagnostic coronavirus tests can take from two to five days to arrive.
“Right now all labs performing COVID-19 tests are operating at peak capacity,” Dr. Susan Donelan, of Stony Brook Medicine, said through a spokesman.
“Not all of the labs offering testing are local, so some samples need to travel to other locations, which impacts turnaround time, which can take up to 4 to 5 days,” she added.
Other diagnostic tests being conducted at some Long Island sites return results in as soon as 15 minutes, as do some antibody tests, which are used to determine if a person has been exposed to COVID-19 and could have immunity.
— JOAN GRALLA
Is there a connection between 5G internet and coronavirus?
“There is absolutely no connection between 5G internet and the coronavirus,” said Dr. Adam Berman, associate chairman of the emergency medicine department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, echoing the international consensus of scientists, doctors and government regulators.
Fifth-generation wireless technology, or 5G, uses radio frequencies higher than mobile phone networks have used in the past. These 5G networks also use a greater number of base stations. Some conspiracy theories assert links between 5G rollout and spread of the virus, including the claim that the radio waves 5G technology uses weaken the body’s immune system.
Authorities in the United States and abroad have said that claim is baseless. “There is no established evidence that low level radio wave exposure from 5G and other wireless telecommunications can affect the immune system or cause any other long term or short term health effects,” the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said in an April 2 posting on its website.
The Federal Communications Commission declined in a Nov. 27, 2019, resolution to change its rules on radio-frequency exposure. “We find no appropriate basis for and thus decline to propose amendments to our existing limits at this time," it said, citing Food and Drug Administration findings.
In recent weeks, the World Health Organization debunked a claim that COVID-19 is somehow spread over the radio waves themselves. WHO officials also pointed out that the virus is “spreading in many countries that do not have 5G networks.” — NICHOLAS SPANGLER
Are the federal stimulus checks considered taxable income?
The checks — $1,200 for qualifying individuals and $2,500 for couples — are credits on this year’s income taxes and can be thought of as advance refunds.
Accounting firm Deloitte says the checks should not be taxed.
Greg Rosica, a partner with Ernst & Young LLP in New York City, agrees, but notes that if an individual’s 2020 income bounces above the qualifying thresholds of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples, he or she may owe the government money.
“When you go over those thresholds, that amount starts to go down,” he said by telephone. “They won’t get to keep all of the money. They will pay it back or get less of a refund” in 2021.
Deloitte said the checks should not impact any other refunds taxpayers are owed.
“The text of the legislation indicates that the amount of the credit that will be calculated on the 2020 return will be reduced (but not below zero) by any refund or credit ... made to a taxpayer, but that refund is only referencing the advance payment that is being paid now, not to other refunds from the 2020 tax return,” the accountants said.
Defining the stimulus checks as credits also means states and localities will not tax these payments, Rosica said.
Deloitte largely agreed, saying New York at least does not count federal refunds in figuring out how much of an individual’s income the state can tax. And the history of the 2008 federal stimulus aid offers some guidance.
“We are fairly confident they did not tax the stimulus rebate then, and that supports our thought that they will not now,” Deloitte said.
Individuals and couples who earn more than the qualifying thresholds will still receive a check, but for less than the full amount, on a sliding scale.
Taxpayers with incomes over $99,000, and married couples who make more than $198,000, do not qualify for the checks.
Parents will receive an additional $500 for children younger than 17 years old in the 2019 tax year.
And after criticism, the Treasury Department reversed course and determined that Americans on Social Security will not have to file a tax return to receive a stimulus check. — JOAN GRALLA
What happened when the New York State on PAUSE executive order took effect March 22 at 8 p.m.?
All nonessential businesses statewide were ordered closed. Celebrations or other social events of any size for any reason were supposed to be canceled or postponed. People can still go out but should limit outdoor recreational activities to noncontact and avoid close contact with others. Limit the use of public transportation to when absolutely necessary and practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet from other people.
“We know the most effective way to reduce the spread of this virus is through social distancing and density reduction measures,” Cuomo said when signing the order.
Sick individuals may leave their home for medical care, but only after a telehealth visit recommends they do so. Young people should avoid contact with vulnerable populations.
Essential businesses are exempt from the pause. These include health care operations, transportation services, gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, veterinarians, convenience stores, restaurants and bars (for takeout and delivery only), homeless shelters and food banks. — CATHERINE CARRERA
Is an employer required to inform its employees of a positive COVID-19 test within the company? And if there is a positive test, is the employer responsible to disinfect and clean that area, department or building?
Guidance issued in March by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that employers “should” inform employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace if an employee has a confirmed virus infection.
But the employer should maintain the worker’s confidentiality, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, while encouraging any sick employees to stay home, the CDC said.
The guidance says employers should perform routine environmental cleaning and disinfection of the workplace’s frequently touched surfaces such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails and doorknobs. If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water before disinfection. — ROBERT BRODSKY
What should I do if a family member dies overseas from COVID-19? Can I return them to the United States?
While the requirements for returning the body of a deceased relative can be complex, the first step, officials said, should be for next of kin or a legal representative to notify U.S. consular officials at the State Department. They're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer questions and provide guidelines.
Because COVID-19 is what's known as "a quarantinable communicable disease," special requirements are in place and remains may only be cleared, released and authorized for entry into the country under certain conditions.
For guidance, contact the State Department's Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C., at 888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444 Monday-Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. For emergency or after-hours assistance, call the State Department switchboard at 202-647-4000 and ask for the Overseas Citizens Services duty officer. You can also get information from the CDC Emergency Operations Center at 770-488-7100 or by emailing email@example.com. — JOHN VALENTI
Even with the tax deadline pushed back, how do I file tax returns?
Tax Day has been pushed from April 15 to July 15. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tweeted: "All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties.”
The treasury secretary advised taxpayers expecting a refund to file their returns as soon as possible, adding: “I encourage all taxpayers who may have tax refunds to file now to get your money.”
However, in response to the national emergency, the IRS has temporarily closed all Taxpayer Assistance Centers and discontinued face-to-face service throughout the country until further notice. But the IRS is continuing to process tax returns, issue refunds and help taxpayers.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to go to IRS.gov and to the newly created IRS.gov/coronavirus webpage, "where they can find the latest updates about IRS services, explore free options to file or request an extension to file at www.IRS.gov/freefile, find forms, tax help, refund status and payment options.”
Gov. Cuomo moved the deadline to file state income tax returns to July 15 from April 15, matching the move by the federal government. — NEWSDAY STAFF
Under the New York State on PAUSE restrictions, can we take the train or car to or from New York City from Long Island to be with a loved one who needs us?
MTA transit, including the subways and Long Island Rail Road, are still open and operational under the restrictions. The roads are open as well. However, the New York State on PAUSE restrictions require that use of public transportation be limited to “when absolutely necessary.”
Sick people should not leave their homes except to receive medical care, according to the executive order, which adds that younger people should not be in direct contact with “vulnerable populations,” including people 70 and older and those with preconditions. — ROBERT BRODSKY
What's an essential service?
Among the "essential services" exempted from the shutdown order are grocery stores, pharmacies, utilities, internet service providers and restaurants with delivery, he said.
Cuomo's office released a more detailed list of exempted health care operations, including hospitals, walk-in-care health facilities, emergency veterinary services, elder care, emergency dental and nursing homes.
Some essential businesses on the governor's list are airports/airlines, bus/rail/for-hire vehicles, hotels, food processing, gas stations, child care, news media, banks, homeless shelters and food banks.
Also exempt are necessary services, including law enforcement, fire prevention, security, trash and recycling collection, auto repair, funeral homes, cemeteries, animal shelters and building cleaners or janitors.
There will be civil fines and closure of businesses that violate the order.
Only essential businesses can have workers commuting to the job or on the job, Cuomo said.
“Essential services have to continue to function. Grocery stores need food, pharmacies need drugs, your internet has to continue to work, the water has to run on when you turn the faucet,” he said.
Any concentration of people outside the home is limited to workers providing essential services, and they must practice “social distancing,” or staying at least six feet away from each other, Cuomo said. — NEWSDAY STAFF
How long are these stay-at-home restrictions going to last?
New York’s “PAUSE” order is in place until May 15. State officials said they would look to adjust the order if the number of cases across the state begins to decline. The order could also be extended if the situation does not improve, as it has twice been already. — ROBERT BRODSKY
What should you do if you’re asked to self-quarantine?
If you may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, health officials recommend that you self-quarantine for 14 days, possibly at home, to stop or limit the spread of the disease. The CDC says, “Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.”
The Suffolk County Health Department website recommends that you “stay at your residence all the time, during the period you are quarantined" and avoid having company. Among other measures recommended: Take your temperature twice a day; sleep in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom until the quarantine period is over; have food delivered to your room; and refrain from walking in your neighborhood.
Should you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, “you should put on a face mask immediately to prevent other people in your household from becoming sick.” And, if there is an emergency, call 911 and let the person that answers know that you are under quarantine for COVID-19. — LEEMA THOMAS
Health and Medicine
Are kids less prone to getting the virus?
While some children and infants have been sick with the coronavirus, adults make up most of the known cases to date, while seniors represent the bulk of the fatalities.
The symptoms of the coronavirus are similar in children and adults. But kids with COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms, the CDC said.
Reported symptoms in children include cold-like signs, such as fever, runny nose and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported in some children, the agency said.
It’s not known whether some children, including those with underlying medical conditions and special health care needs, may be at higher risk for severe illness. — ROBERT BRODSKY
Can your pets get or spread coronavirus?
Two pet cats in New York state have tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first confirmed cases in companion animals in the United States, federal officials said Wednesday.
The cats, which had mild respiratory illnesses and are expected to recover, are thought to have contracted the virus from people in their households or neighborhoods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The finding, which comes after positive tests in seven tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo, adds to a small number of confirmed cases of the virus in animals worldwide. U.S. authorities say that while it appears some animals can get the virus from people, there’s no indication the animals are transmitting it to humans.
The agencies have recommended that any pet owners with COVID-19 avoid petting, snuggling or other contact with their animals as much as possible, including wearing a face covering while caring for them.
“We don’t want people to panic. We don’t want people to be afraid of pets” or to rush to test them en masse, said Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, a CDC official who works on human-animal health connections. “There’s no evidence that pets are playing a role in spreading this disease to people.”
Still, the CDC is recommending that people prevent their pets from interacting with people or animals outside their homes — by keeping cats indoors and dogs out of dog parks, for instance.
The two cats live in different parts of the state; the USDA and CDC wouldn’t say where specifically.
The first cat fell ill about a week after a person in its household had a short respiratory illness, though the person's ailment wasn’t confirmed to be COVID-19, Barton Behravesh said. The animal goes outdoors at times and might have come into contact with an infected person in the area, she said.
The second cat’s owner tested positive for COVID-19 before the cat became sick, officials said. Another cat in the same home hasn’t shown any signs of illness.
The New York City-based Animal Medical Center said it was “highly unlikely“ that a person would be infected by a companion animal.
“At this point, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread from an infected companion animal to a human,” the nonprofit said on its website.
“However, the virus is thought to spread by contact with contaminated surfaces (which can include your pet’s fur/nose/tongue)," it said, advising people to wash their hands after interacting with pets.
The AMC, one of the nation’s largest and most advanced research animal hospitals, said the “weak positive” test result from a dog in Hong Kong suggests it might be possible for an animal to infect a person.
The dog in Hong Kong has shown no symptoms. The virus is thought to have come from its owner.
Nadia, the 4-year-old female Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, was tested after she, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions developed a dry cough, according to the society. All are expected to recover.
The zoo animals were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms.
— JOAN GRALLA and AP
Should individuals who suspect they have COVID-19 take ibuprofen? Or is Tylenol a better choice?
Researchers have backed off initial warnings that ibuprofen, sold under the brand names Advil and Motrin, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, could worsen the effects of COVID-19.
But there’s also no clear evidence that NSAIDs help, and doctors continue to debate the matter. In a statement last month to the Los Angeles Times, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases said “more research is needed” into whether ibuprofen aggravates the coronavirus, adding: “Currently, there is no evidence that ibuprofen increases the risk of serious complications or of acquiring the virus that causes COVID-19.”
Some recommend acetaminophen products such as Tylenol to help alleviate fevers. Harvard Medical School last month said with questions regarding ibuprofen still unsettled, it appeared to be “prudent” to try acetaminophen first, limiting daily dosages to 3,000 milligrams or less.
Tylenol, however, does come with a warning from the Food and Drug Administration, which says the drug is generally safe when used properly but can cause liver damage — including acute liver failure or death — if users take more than recommended amounts. — CARL MACGOWAN
Can you get coronavirus twice?
That is unknown, according to experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The immune response to COVID-19 is not yet understood,” the CDC said in an online posting.
Patients who have had Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) — a viral respiratory coronavirus first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 before spreading to other countries, including the United States — have shown they are “unlikely to be reinfected shortly after they recover,” the CDC said.
But, the CDC said, the truth at this stage in the current pandemic is “it is not yet known whether similar immune protection will be observed for patients with COVID-19.” — JOHN A. VALENTI
If you received the pneumonia vaccine, are you better protected from the coronavirus?
No. The World Health Organization says vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, do not offer protection against the novel coronavirus. “The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine.”
Both WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection, the CDC says, “is to take everyday preventive actions, like avoiding close contact with people who are sick and washing your hands often.”
Harvard Health Publishing’s Coronavirus Resource Center says: “Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, only help protect people from these specific bacterial infections. They do not protect against any coronavirus pneumonia, including pneumonia that may be part of COVID-19.”
Although these vaccines are not effective against COVID-19, medical experts recommend the vaccinations against pneumonia to protect against other respiratory illnesses. — LEEMA THOMAS
Why is age a factor?
Medical experts say the answer is simple: Older adults have a more difficult time with the coronavirus because their immune system is not as strong as younger people's.
But age is not the only factor. Anyone whose immune system may be weakened or compromised, such as those going through cancer treatments and people with autoimmune diseases, is also at an increased risk.
However, younger people are not immune from contracting COVID-19. The World Health Organization says the disease can put them in the hospital for weeks, and even kill them. — ROBERT BRODSKY
Can hydroxychloroquine treat coronavirus?
A large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals found there were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported.
The nationwide study was not a rigorous experiment. But with 368 patients, it’s the largest look so far of hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin for COVID-19, The Associated Press reported.
hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate have been shown in the lab to prevent the growth of the virus, and there are a few reports of patients with the virus who improved after they were treated with the drugs, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
But it’s not yet known if the patients would have improved without the drug, and important information like the optimal dosing and duration of treatment is also unknown, according to the FDA.
hydroxychloroquine sulfate and some versions of chloroquine phosphate are FDA-approved to treat malaria; hydroxychloroquine sulfate is also FDA-approved to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It’s not known if people who were already taking the drugs for those conditions are less likely than anyone else to contract the virus, said Dr. Adam Berman, associate chair of the emergency medicine department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.
Also, like all drugs, these have risks. Clinical trials are now underway. — NICHOLAS SPANGLER
Is there a cure for coronavirus?
No. Scientists are working on treatment, including a vaccine, but according to the World Health Organization, there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease. The WHO says there are currently clinical trials to try to find treatment.
There are some viruses for which there are never vaccines or cures. Four decades after the appearance of HIV, there is still no vaccine or cure, but there is a daily medicine that, taken regularly, prevents infection in almost all cases. — MATTHEW CHAYES
What are the symptoms of coronavirus versus the flu?
According to the CDC's website, the following symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the coronavirus, based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses:
- Shortness of breath
If you develop emergency warning signs for the coronavirus, get medical attention immediately, the CDC says. Emergency warning signs include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Bluish lips or face
The CDC stressed that the list is not all-inclusive. Consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms, according to the CDC website:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
Not everyone with flu will have a fever, the CDC says.
Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, says it’s important to note that there is a vaccine for the flu as well as antiviral medication to help battle it. Not so for coronavirus.
“The critical thing to remember is these are two totally different illnesses,” Glatt said. “One [the flu] has a vaccine and some treatment options, while the other does not, albeit there is a lot of investigation underway.” — NEWSDAY STAFF
What treatments are being given to those infected with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19?
Gov. Cuomo has announced New York has acquired 750,000 doses of chloroquine and 70,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine, two anti-malarial drugs, for trials in the treatment of COVID-19 that began March 24. Also acquired for trial were 10,000 doses of Zithromax, an antibiotic used to treat a number of different bacterial infections, including respiratory infections, ear infections and sexually transmitted diseases.
Though the CDC has stressed there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs currently for treatment of COVID-19, trials of these three drugs in New York, as well as continued trials by the National Institutes of Health for drugs like remdesivir and a World Health Organization study for drugs such as lopinavir-ritonavir are hopeful of finding some means to either slow the onset of COVID-19 — or, hasten recovery from it — until a vaccine can be developed to combat the novel coronavirus. Previous drug trials began in March in Seattle. — JOHN VALENTI
What is a ventilator?
Between 47% and 71% of critically ill coronavirus patients admitted to an ICU need to breathe with the help of a ventilator, according to clinical guidelines for treating coronavirus, released in March by the CDC.
A ventilator is a machine that helps a patient breathe — or breathes for the patient. It's used for a variety of respiratory conditions in addition to coronavirus. The machine is connected to the patient through a tube placed either in the mouth or through a tracheostomy, a surgical opening in the neck that goes to the windpipe. Medical personnel such as a doctor, nurse or respiratory therapist control the machine. A patient on a ventilator cannot speak, and medicine administered for comfort can make the person sleepy. In some cases, a patient is restrained to prevent vital wires and tubes from being pulled out. — MATTHEW CHAYES
Avoiding the Virus
How can "essential workers" keep their own families safe?
The governors of several states, including New York, have issued guidance requiring “nonessential” workers to remain home and work remotely if possible. Essential workers range from doctors and hospital staff to members of law enforcement, elder care staffers and grocery clerks.
Medical and health experts said essential workers should continue to comply with basic COVID-19 guidance to wear a face covering in public and remain a safe distance of 6 feet from other people through social distancing. Federal and state officials also advise workers to avoid contact with vulnerable populations, including seniors and those with preexisting medical conditions and to frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. — ROBERT BRODSKY
Can I go outside?
Experts see exercising in fresh air and sunlight as too beneficial to give up — as long as crucial safety steps are taken.
The first, of course, is 6 feet of separation between people; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that's the minimum distance needed to keep any droplets from a cough or sneeze from infecting someone else. If social distancing is impossible, New York State requires anyone in public to wear a face covering.
Another imperative is knowing who you are with, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine.
“I think going outside with your immediate family is a great idea,” she said. “It’s better for psychological and physical well-being to go outside.” However, she would dissuade people from forming new walking or running groups because of possible unknowns.
“You really want to restrict your contacts,” she said.
Also: Basketballs, baseballs, Frisbees and the like should be sanitized, experts say.
Dr. Lorry Rubin, director of pediatric infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and a professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, explained that fresh air can help ward off the virus that research shows can remain suspended in the air for a few hours.
As for runners who might be panting as they pass each other or a group of walkers, Rubin agreed with Nachman that this probably was a minor risk. “We don’t have any data on that,” Nachman said, though the speed at which runners are traveling probably means the danger is minimal.
Dr. Michael Grosso, chief medical officer at Huntington Hospital, pointed out that exercising in fresh air can boost the ability to withstand infections.
“The science is very clear that our brain talks to our immune system, which means that activities that help our state of mind impact the quality of our immune response,” he said.
“Beyond that, physical activity is good for our metabolism, our hearts and even our bones. Observe the six-foot rule, practice good hand hygiene and go take a walk.”
Still, there was one form of activity he did advise against: playgrounds.
“My sense — though of course there are no data here — is that playgrounds are a bad idea,” he said. “It seems that children can be silent carriers of this [and other] respiratory viruses, and wiping off all the surfaces a child could touch is impractical.” — JOAN GRALLA
Does air dissipate the virus, and if so, am I actually safer outside?
The answer is still up in the air.
Both the World Health Organization and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention say the coronavirus is transmitted only through close contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces. The WHO says the virus is “mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air. They quickly fall on floors or surfaces.”
But recent news reports suggest the virus can spread through the air, especially in health care settings.
Virginia Tech virologist Linsey Marr, who studies how viruses survive in the air, says COVID-19 can transmit disease while airborne, just as it can when it remains on many surfaces. In an interview for The Atlantic, Marr says: “People envision these clouds of viruses roaming through the streets coming after them, but the risk of [infection] is higher if you’re closer to the source. … The outside is great as long as you’re not in a crowded park.”
Hofstra University’s associate Professor of Public Health Anthony Santella says: “Public health authorities at the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have acknowledged that they are still investigating how long COVID-19 lingers in the air and how far it can travel and spread. Scientists do believe that the droplets produced from sneezing and coughing are too large to remain suspended in the air as compared to measles, which is truly aerosol because it is a very small and robust microbe and can stay in the air for up to 2 hours.”
But he added: “Remember, exercise is good for strengthening the immune system and managing stress. Just remember to practice physical distancing when you go outside.”
Dr. David Hirschwerk, an assistant professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and an infectious disease specialist and vice chair of medicine at North Shore University Hospital, says: “The answer may depend upon several environmental factors. But the main message is still to adhere to principles of social distancing and avoidance of crowds. Even if a choice is made to be outside, it remains critical to remain separated from others. The virus can certainly be transmitted outdoors.” — LEEMA THOMAS
Can you catch the virus if the wind blows an infected person’s germs toward you?
There still is much that is not known about COVID-19, as scientists continue to study its specific properties, so there is no definitive answer to this question.
The websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization don’t directly address this issue. Both say the virus mainly is spread when droplets produced by a person who sneezes or coughs fall on objects or surfaces, and another person touches that surface, then touches his or her mouth, eyes or nose.
The WHO site says coronavirus is “mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets rather than through the air,” but adds: “WHO is assessing ongoing research on the ways COVID-19 is spread and will continue to share updated findings.” — CARL MACGOWAN
Can cigarette/vape smoke from a COVID-19 carrier present a virus threat to other people?
Cigarette smokers and vapers face increased risks from the virus because it can kill with pneumonialike breathing problems — and their breathing already may be impaired, doctors say. For anyone else they are near, the same social distancing rules apply because smoking allows the air to disperse any virus-carrying droplets.
The risk of catching the virus stems from the possibility a smoker or vaper is exhaling the infectious particles themselves, explained Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of the department of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside. Glatt also serves as the hospital’s chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist.
The potential for secondhand smoke to cause cancer and other problems were identified decades ago — and remain. — JOAN GRALLA
Is it safe to do yardwork?
The same imperatives for social distancing apply for gardening or working around the yard as with any other outdoor activity, experts said.
"As long as you practice social distancing, we encourage you to continue your outdoor activities such as walks, runs and yardwork, to the extent your health allows it," the California Department of Health said on its website.
Those who are at higher risk of contracting the virus should take extra precautions. Harvard Health Publishing advises such individuals to keep away from others who are sick and wash their hands often. — JOAN GRALLA
Should immunocompromised people go grocery shopping?
People with weakened immune systems are among the most at risk for the coronavirus, so just like the elderly — another vulnerable group — the safest approach when it comes to getting food and other essentials is turning to someone else, said Dr. David Battinelli, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Northwell Health.
“What we’ve been telling people is to be extra vigilant,” Battinelli said. “If somebody else can do that shopping for you, that would be ideal.”
If not, he said using food delivery services and shopping at odd hours when few other customers are around — while wearing a mask and gloves — is preferable.
Food delivery cartons can be tossed or recycled, experts said, with the contents wiped down. The risk of catching the virus from a container of food, however, is viewed as very low, they said. — JOAN GRALLA
What is social distancing and how can I practice it effectively?
"Social distancing is really trying to stay at least six feet away from someone else. The best way to practice that is to try to not go into crowds, not go into crowded spaces, really trying to allow open air between someone so you're not in contact with them should some be sneezing or coughing," said Dr. Fred Davis, associate chair of emergency medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park.
If you do sneeze or cough, "make sure you're covering your face so that you don't spread to others." — ZACHARY R. DOWDY
Are there special rules for people over age 70 or with compromised immune systems?
Yes. Matilda’s Law, named after Gov. Cuomo’s mother, was signed to protect the state’s vulnerable populations, including those over age 70, those with compromised immune systems and those with underlying illnesses.
The measure requires this group to stay at home, take the temperatures of visitors and aides, and wear a mask in the company of others. This group can go outside for solitary exercise and must stay at least 6 feet away from others. Those who are vulnerable should not take public transportation, unless it’s urgent, and should not visit households with multiple people, the law states.
“To the greatest extent possible, everyone in the presence of vulnerable people should wear a mask,” the law states. — CATHERINE CARRERA
Does the temperature of the water matter when you wash your hands? Or should you wash in hottest water you can stand?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the temperature of the water does not affect the removal of bacteria from your hands. However, the CDC said, warmer water may cause skin irritation and be environmentally costly.
But because coronaviruses survive for shorter periods at higher temperatures and higher humidity than in cooler or drier environments, the CDC said, washing your hands with warm water works best.
The CDC says use soap and water to wash your hands, and wet your hands before adding soap. While washing, make sure you get the backs of your hands, between fingers and under your nails. Also, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to remove the most germs. — KELDY ORTIZ
Can you get coronavirus from a cardboard box?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there is currently no evidence to show that COVID-19 can be transmitted with imported goods, including on cardboard shipping boxes.
"In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures," the CDC said on its website.
The World Health Organization has said it is safe to receive packages from any area because the risk of catching the virus from a package that has been “moved, traveled and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low." — ROBERT BRODSKY
Every two weeks I take $500 (in 20s) from my bank’s ATM. Is this the safest thing to do? What about if I get them from a teller?
Health experts have said the risk of transferring the virus person to person through cash is low but not impossible. Researchers believe the virus can stay active on surfaces, including currency, for at least 10 days. Money, which changes hands multiple times per day, is generally considered among the most highly touched surfaces.
The World Health Organization has urged individuals handling cash to frequently wash their hands and when possible for consumers to use contactless forms of payment. — ROBERT BRODSKY
What is the possible impact of the virus on our future food chain supply?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said there was no evidence that COVID-19 transmission could occur through food.
“We want to reassure the public that at this time there is no evidence that food or food packaging have been associated with transmission and no reason to be concerned,” the FDA said in recent guidance regarding the safety of consumer products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it was not aware of any reports of human illnesses that suggest the virus could be passed along through food or food packaging. — ROBERT BRODSKY
Can I get coronavirus from drinking tap water?
No. Local water districts must use chlorine to disinfect and kill bacteria and other pathogens. The New York State Department of Health said in March that the virus has not been detected in drinking water. — MATTHEW CHAYES
Can I get the coronavirus from paper?
The virus can stay on some surfaces for hours and longer, although the extent to which it can then be transmitted to people has yet to be determined. It is more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, according to the March 17 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Virologist George Lomonossoff of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England, told BBC Radio Scotland that the likelihood of transmission by newspapers is “absolutely infinitesimal.”
“All the ink and the print makes them actually quite, quite sterile as a medium,” he said. “I suppose if someone literally a few minutes ago sneezed on it and handed it to you that possibly could do something.”
A study released by the National Institutes of Health in March found that “The virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces.”
And it could last weeks, according to a March 23 report from the CDC. Aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship — where eight people died and 700 people were infected earlier this year — researchers found genetic material from the virus “on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days,” according to the report. Researchers could not determine, however, if the virus is present in sufficient amounts to infect a person or just to be detectable. — MATTHEW CHAYES
How can I protect myself if I need to wash my clothes at a Laundromat?
The CDC says it’s OK to mix the laundry from someone who’s infected with the items of someone who isn’t.
“Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items,” according to a CDC advisory.
Dirty hands are another story.
Other people are constantly touching everything outside of the drum — the door handles and lids, the buttons to pick settings and start the machines, the coins and dispensers to pay for a cycle or buy detergent, and the communal laundry baskets — and those items can contain and transmit coronavirus and other germs.
You can stop the spread from these surfaces by frequently washing your hands and wearing latex gloves where possible.
Regardless, you should practice social distancing at a Laundromat, as everywhere in public, staying at least 6 feet away from anyone you don’t live with.
What about laundry from a person infected with the coronavirus? Those items should be washed on the warmest possible setting — check the garment’s instructions — and then completely dried, according to the CDC. Use gloves when handling the items as they go into the machine. — MATTHEW CHAYES
Can the coronavirus spread through air conditioning vents?
Research is continuing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is citing a study that found members of three families in China appeared to have become infected after eating at a restaurant in Guangzhou where the tables were only about 3 feet apart. One of the families had just come from Wuhan, where the virus may have begun.
Scientists initially thought air conditioning was unlikely to spread COVID-19 because virus-laden droplets from coughs or sneezes are large enough to fall to the ground fairly swiftly. This is the basis for the social distancing 6-feet rule. At the Guangzhou restaurant, however, “The airflow direction was consistent with droplet transmission,” the CDC said. “To prevent the spread of the virus in restaurants, we recommend increasing the distance between tables and improving ventilation.”
The restaurant air conditioning system tested negative; no other diners or staffers fell ill, the CDC said.
“However, strong airflow from the air conditioner could have propagated droplets” between the families in the Guangzhou restaurant, the CDC said.
There is a vital caveat as well.
Coronavirus particles can become aerosolized — it can happen in hospitals during intubations, for example. That means the particles are so tiny they can travel much farther. And it's one reason health care workers face such extraordinary peril. — JOAN GRALLA
Should I wash my clothes after being outside?
Although the novel coronavirus has been found on soft surfaces, only people who have been working or socializing near people who might be infected with the novel coronavirus should immediately disrobe upon entering their home and only wear that outfit again after it is laundered, experts said.
“As a general rule, work clothes from a health care setting should be regularly laundered when these clothes come into contact with patient environments," experts say.
Use detergent appropriate for the clothing, they say. — JOAN GRALLA
Can rain affect the spread of the coronavirus?
Rain can thin the novel coronavirus contained in droplets released when carriers cough or sneeze, experts said. As a result, downpours are unlikely to spread the disease, though water alone typically does not kill viruses.
"These particles can be swept up into the air and travel much further, but they will be rapidly diluted and will not survive very long," said Curtis Suttle, a professor in the Departments of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Botany, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Suttle, who was a researcher in the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University, recently joined with other scientists in discovering that nearly 2 miles above the Earth "about a billion viruses per day settle down on each square yard of surface." The concentration is much higher at sea level.
"It is not impossible that coronaviruses could also get swept into the air from an infected person, but most will be associated with tiny droplets that will not travel very far," Suttle said. — JOAN GRALLA
Do I need to worry about the coronavirus on takeout or delivered food, or the package it comes in?
There is no evidence that coronavirus is transmitted from food, according to the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus is likely susceptible to normal cooking temperatures, according to the World Health Organization, which says food does not need to be prepared any differently than normal food safety precautions.
In general, restaurants have food safety standards to avoid transmission of foodborne bacteria and viruses such as salmonella and E. coli. Those standards would typically prevent the coronavirus from getting into takeout food, experts say.
As for the packaging, a preliminary study published March 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine tested the virus on a variety of surfaces and found it could remain on plastic for up to 72 hours and cardboard for potentially 24 hours. But the study found the virus degrades quickly, with its concentration levels on plastic dropping by 50% within 6.8 hours on plastic and more than three hours on cardboard.
While the risk of transmitting the virus from takeout bags or boxes is low, experts suggest that individuals concerned about contamination can place the items in the sink rather than on tabletops or counters. The food could then be easily transferred to a plate with the delivery bags or containers disposed of in the trash.
The more meaningful precaution, experts say, is to avoid direct contact with the delivery worker and chose services with contactless delivery. — ROBERT BRODSKY
How can I grocery shop safely during this crisis?
Experts say you can safely shop for groceries during the coronavirus pandemic but also offer a few words of caution. Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of health care epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine, says, “minimize the number of your shopping trips.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you should have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for "a period of time." And, you should follow the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing.
Donelan offered additional tips in an email on how to safely shop.
- Wipe down the handle of your shopping cart with disinfectant wipes. Bring some with you in case your grocery store does not have any. Make sure it is very wet and let it dry. Don’t wipe it off immediately.
- Avoid touching items as much as possible. Be extremely aware of where your hands are, what they are touching, and keep them off your face.
- Keep hand sanitizer with you so you can clean your hands regularly.
- Try to keep some distance between yourself and the shoppers around you.
- Do NOT go shopping when you are feeling under the weather.
- Ask a neighbor or friend to pick things up for you.
- If possible, avoid touching surfaces other people are also touching many times, such as touch keypads at the checkout counter. Whether you’re paying by credit card or cash, perform hand hygiene frequently and keep your hands off of your face.
- Once you get home and after you put your groceries away, wipe down any kitchen surfaces that held the new purchases. The most important thing to do is wash your hands.
“Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19 ... foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission,” said Suffolk County's Health Department spokeswoman in an email. “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. That’s why it’s always critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook and chill."
U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines do not call for disinfecting perishable and nonperishable grocery items, as officials say there is no evidence of food or packaging being associated with the spread of COVID-19. But FDA officials say fresh produce should always be cleaned in water, although not with soap. — LEEMA THOMAS and ROBERT BRODSKY
Is it safe to have groceries delivered to my home?
Federal health officials say the risk of contracting the coronavirus from packages and grocery items or the mail is very low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the virus is thought to be spread primarily from person to person in close contact with one another.
The CDC says the risk of catching the virus from commercial packaging, as well as delivery items or mail, is exceedingly low because of the poor survivability of the virus on these surfaces, which are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures. The bigger risk, the CDC says, is coming into close contact with the courier or delivery person. — ROBERT BRODSKY
When does a person who tests positive but is asymptomatic stop shedding the virus and is not contagious?
Scientists are not entirely sure when people start and stop shedding particles of the virus. Nor is there a clear dividing line between the asymptomatic and the symptomatic when it comes to protecting others.
"There have been a couple of studies that have looked at how long patients continue to shed infectious virus, which suggest that patients transmit virus for 10 days or less after the onset of symptoms," said Colgate University associate professor of biology Geoff Holm by email.
Yet these individuals still might test positive, Holm continued, as the tests detect the viral RNA — not the infectious virus. Possibly, such individuals no longer are spreading the virus.
"Another caveat," Holm explained, "is that these are averages; some individuals might continue to shed virus longer than others, so all patients should continue to wear face coverings and maintain social distance for even longer, just to be on the safe side." — JOAN GRALLA
Are there CDC guidelines on this and when someone who does have symptoms can stop self-isolating and isn’t contagious?
Yes, the CDC offers detailed guidance for when people with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation, as well as for those who have laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 who have not had any symptoms. The information can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html — JOAN GRALLA
How important is fever and taking your temperature in assessing those with symptoms?
Fevers, just like coughs, are viewed as warning signs that require extra safeguards.
Colgate University associate professor of biology Geoff Holm said by email: “For patients that were symptomatic, isolation can be discontinued three days after recovery, which means 1) resolution of fever without the use of medication AND 2) resolution of any respiratory symptoms (shortness of breath, cough, etc.) AND 3) at least seven days have passed since the onset of symptoms.”
For individuals who tested positive but escaped symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends discontinuing isolation seven days after their first positive test, providing no symptoms have started, and for an additional three days maintaining social distance AND wearing a face mask to limit shed of respiratory droplets,” the professor said. — JOAN GRALLA
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