FAQ: Breaking down many of the questions surrounding coronavirus

There’s an overflow of information since the coronavirus pandemic reached Southold Town one week ago.

Here’s a breakdown of some common questions that emerged this past week.

Has this particular coronavirus — COVID-19 — been in the U.S. before?

The CDC says there are seven types of coronaviruses. One of them, named COVID-19, is a respiratory virus that first appeared in China in December of last year. In short, coronaviruses can cause a range of symptoms, including those associated with the common cold, so, yes, coronaviruses have been here before. But COVID-19 is unique and health experts are still trying to understand it.

The Suffolk County Department of Health notes:

“The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.”

That’s where confusion has come from people who have noticed certain cleaning products already say on the label that they disinfect coronaviruses.

What does pandemic mean?

The World Health Organization characterized the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic last week. A pandemic refers to the worldwide spread of a new disease. An outbreak, by contrast, is contained to a specific area, such as in China when the coronavirus was first reported.

A pandemic does not refer to the severity or deadliness of the disease. It’s about the spread of the disease.

“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the WHO director-general. “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.”

What is social distancing?

Experts recommend people keep a distance of 6 feet from other people to avoid coming into contact with an infected person. This will help prevent physical contact that will spread COVID-19 from person to person. Some people who may not be symptomatic can still pass on the disease.

What does ‘flattening the curve’ mean?

You will see in various places reporting on the numbers of COVID-19 cases graphs showing the sharp increase in confirmed cases. Some experts are calling that a bell curve. So far, that curve keeps rising. When experts say the goal is to ‘flatten the curve,’ they mean that the number of confirmed cases will begin to slow and the steep line on a curve will begin to even out.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday “the curve is a wave. And the wave could break the hospital system. That’s what they’re talking about when they talk about the curve. If you have too high a number of people sick at the same time, when they descend on the hospital system, you will overwhelm the hospital system.”

A specific concern is on the number of ICU hospital beds available, the governor said, in terms of overwhelming hospital capacity.

Why has the outbreak in Suffolk County centered in Southold Town?

Virus detectives when they see an outbreak try to work backward from the first infected person to see where he or she got it, and then work forward to see who they came in contact with. As best as we know now, a brewery worker in Peconic was Southold’s first case and, in some of the other 18 (so far) confirmed cases in Southold, there seems to be links back to this first patient. But this has not been absolutely nailed down. One confirmed Southold case seems to have been contracted on an airplane or in Florida.

How long is the recovery if I am diagnosed?

Experts snap answer is: it depends on how sick you get. People who experience mild cases appear to recover within two weeks. In severe cases the recovery period can be six weeks or longer. Some experts also raise this red flag: that an infected person might still be contagious weeks after recovery.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said 80% of people infected will “self-resolve,” meaning they can recover at home without needing additional medical care. The other 20% may need hospitalization, which is the real concern if the virus continues to spread at too great a rate.

How does COVID-19 compare to the flu?

The symptoms can be the same, but the bottom line is this: there is a vaccine for the flu, there is none for COVID-19.

From the World Health Organization:

“To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

“However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care. Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners.”

Read more from ProPublica here.

Should I be wearing a mask?

Due to a growing threat of limited supplies for health care workers, people should avoid wearing masks in everyday life if they are not sick. Anyone who is sick should be home and avoiding public places unless traveling for medical reasons, based on a doctor’s instructions.

The best advice seems to be to keep a distance of at least 6 feet from other people. And wash, wash, wash your hands all the time and don’t touch your face. The CDC recommends masks for those who have respiratory issues, but not for the general public. Many places such as hospitals now require visitors to wear masks before entering the building.

The CDC says:

“You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.”

The difference between surgical masks and N95 Respirator

Will warm weather stop the spread of the virus?

That is the pattern in flu cases, but the World Health Organization just recently said temperature will not play a role in the spread of the virus. And as you can see, there are COVID-19 cases in southern California, Arizona and Florida, where it is warmer.

From the World Health Organization:

“From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting COVID-19.”

If I feel sick, can I get a COVID-19 test?

The short answer is only if you meet the CDC guidelines — high fever, difficulty breathing, a nasty cough. Without those — and this is the cold and flu season — you will likely be turned down for the test. However, officials are speculating that, as more and more testing becomes commonplace, those requirements may be loosened.

Officials said Sunday a mobile testing center, similar to the one that just opened in New Rochelle, will likely be coming to the East End. At least two mobile testing centers will be coming to Suffolk County, according to County Legislator Bridget Fleming.

Is there a vaccine?

No. It will be months or longer before a COVID-19 vaccine reaches your doctor’s office.

The FDA last week warned seven companies to stop selling products the claimed to prevent or cure COVID-19, according to the New York Times.

What about my pet?

Information about pets is evolving as still much is unknown about COVID-19. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s most recent information as of Saturday says that “there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 or that they spread it to other animals, including people.”

People who are not feeling ill can interact as they normally would with pets.

“Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus,” the AVMA notes. “If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.”

The Mattituck-Laurel Veterinary Hospital sent an email to clients reminding them that there is no clinical testing available in the U.S. for animals of any kind.

Read more from the AVMA here.

Is it safe to order food that I either pick up at a restaurant or have delivered to my home?

In short, yes. Avoid person-to-person contact, and have the delivery left on your step, or pick it up away from the lobby or entrance to a restaurant where they may be people congregated.

The FDA says, “There is no evidence to suggest that food produced in the United States can transmit COVID-19.

“Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill.” 

Read more: “How you should get food during the pandemic”

What about cleaning? Is it effective?

Oh, yes. It’s very effective. The virus can last for hours on a smooth surface — from a countertop to a desk or cell phone. Clean with anti-bacterial cloths and sprays. And pretty much do it a lot. And wash your hands with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

Should we be airing out our homes and businesses?

The virus is spread by respiratory droplets. After a thorough cleaning, airing out your home — if weather permits — will make it feel better, but it arguably won’t decrease the risk.

When will we return to normal?

This is the question on everyone’s minds. Right now, life as we know has all but been shuttered to try and contain the virus. And, with more and more testing, the numbers are sure to go up. There is just no way to know with certainty when the day to day normal we now crave will return.

Is there anyone at fault for this pandemic? Many out there in the world of talking head television and social media say yes. But no scientist or health expert has gone down this road. Stick with the experts and avoid the politics. This is a health crisis, not a political one.

The coronavirus was first flagged in China late last year and began to formally recognized in January. In the U.S., the epidemic by all indications is still in its early stages.