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COVID-19 101

Your COVID-19 questions answered

Coronavirus

October 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has been part of our daily lives for months, but constant updates, new findings and differences of opinion can still make it difficult to get clear answers to common questions.

We asked our infectious disease experts to answer your most pressing questions about COVID-19. Here’s what they had to say.

  • About 2% or less of people are asymptomatic, or have COVID-19 without symptoms. There are also people who are presymptomatic, meaning they are not showing symptoms yet. We know that these people can spread the virus 1-2 days before symptoms appear. We anticipate that most patients with COVID-19 will have some symptoms, even if mild.

  • People are most infectious from 1-2 days prior to symptoms appearing to several days after symptoms appear. That is part of the unique nature of this disease.

  • The CDC recommends wearing a face mask to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by those unaware they have it. Even a cloth mask can help reduce spread.

  • Antibody testing may become quite important, but it is in the early stages of development. There are many laboratories looking to produce antibody tests. If these tests are sensitive enough and specific enough for COVID-19, a positive test would prove a person had had COVID-19 while a negative test would prove a person had not had COVID-19. We need to be certain these are effective, validated tests before we can rely upon their results and use the information in a helpful way.

  • We all have to continue to be vigilant and adhere to public health guidance. We need to stop the spread of COVID-19 even more now, as we reopen and increase our interactions with others. The 5 ways to do this are very simple.

    • Don't go out if you are sick or have symptoms.
    • Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or hand sanitizer.
    • Do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth.
    • Sneeze and cough into your elbow.
    • Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others.
  • At least 80% of people with COVID-19 will be able to rest and recover at home. A smaller subset will need to receive care in the hospital, and an even smaller subset will have critical illness and receive treatment in the ICU. Even though only a small percentage of those infected will need hospitalization, we have to remember that this virus infects a large number of people and could easily overwhelm our healthcare system in terms of the number of available hospital rooms and ventilators and the supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

  • No. These are misconceptions. Carbon dioxide, which we release as we exhale, diffuses easily through masks. There is no evidence or science to indicate that wearing a mask weakens the immune system. We encourage the use of masks when out in public or when physical distancing is not possible. Covering the mouth and nose reduces the spread of germs.

  • It is too early in the disease’s progression to answer that question with certainty, but the nation is seeing instances of people who have had COVID-19 and contract the infection again. We absolutely recommend that any person who has recovered from COVID-19 continue to behave with caution and responsibility – practicing the pillars of infection prevention and control – to protect against contracting or spreading COVID-19. In addition, while the plasma of COVID-19 survivors may be of use to treat those who are sick, we strongly discourage anyone from willingly contracting COVID-19 with the intent to sell plasma. It’s a dangerous risk.

Straight from the expert

View this video to hear Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of infection prevention and control for the health system, answer these COVID-19 FAQs directly.

Dana Hawkinson, MD, Director, Infection Prevention and Control, Answers Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19

Two percent or less are asymptomatic. You can have people who are pre-symptomatic. And we know you can spread the virus, one to two days prior to any symptoms. But we anticipate a majority of patients will have some sort of symptoms, even if mild. You're probably most infectious, one to two days prior to symptoms, to several days after symptoms. And that just seems to be one of the unique natures of this disease and this infection.

The CDC has recommended that you use a face mask. Even if it's a cloth face mask, to really try and help reduce the spread that you may have it to other people who don't have it. There are many laboratories that are looking to produce antibody tests. And if they are sensitive and specific enough for COVID-19, so that we know that if you have a positive antibody test, you've actually had infection with COVID-19.

And if you've had a negative test that you haven't had it. We need to understand that and make sure that these are very good validated tests in that sense. If they can be validated and provide us that information, they will all be very helpful. But we need to wait and see.

We all have to be vigilant and adhere to public health guidance. We need to really try and stop the spread even more now, as we open up and become more interactive with other people. And the ways to do that are very simple.

Don't go out if you are sick or having symptoms, only go out if you need to, wash your hands frequently by using soap and water or hand sanitizer and do not touch your face. This is especially going to be important if you're out in public, or if you have a mask on.

If you do happen to have a cough or sneeze, do that into your elbow or to your shirt. In addition to continuing to maintain physical distance, at least six feet apart from people. 80% or more of people are going to be okay to stay at home and treat themselves at home. But there is that other subset of the population, which will have to go to the hospital, and even a smaller subset of the population, which will have critical illness and have to go to the ICU.

Even though that is a small percentage, we have to understand that this virus seems to infect a large number of people that can very easily overwhelm our healthcare system, such as hospital rooms, ventilators and personal protective equipment for our patients, as well as our healthcare workers.

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