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Wednesday, April 8 Coronavirus in Connecticut

Coronavirus Q&A: Answering readers’ medical and health questions

We’re asking our readers to share their coronavirus-related questions, and we’re contacting experts to get answers.

To that end, we spoke with two Quinnipiac University professors.

Each has a different area of expertise.

Dr. Dwayne Boucaud, a professor of biomedical science, specializes in virology.

And Dr. Dennis Brown, who heads the university’s physician assistant program, specializes in emergency management and community health.

You can find their answers to readers’ questions — and some of our own — below. A video recording of the full interview can be found here:

Question: What should the public know right now?

Answer: Boucaud had one big message he wanted to get out to the public: please do not take chloroquine. It’s not safe, he said. (the drug is used treat the mosquito-borne illness malaria)

And, he said, “Be prepared for this [pandemic] to drag on… The curve is not close to flattening.”

Question: Do you develop immunity to the novel coronavirus after getting COVID-19?

Answer: At this point, there is not enough data out there to determine whether getting the virus gives you protective immunity, Boucaud said.

“If it’s like many other viruses, I would say that yes, you would probably have protective immunity,” he said. But, the virologist warned, “We can’t say that for sure with COVID-19.”

Question: What is the difference between COVID-19-S and COVID-19-L, and if you get one, do you have immunity from the other?

Answer: Scientists in China identified two strains of the disease, COVID-19-S and COVID-19-L, according to Boucaud.

But they are so genetically similar that there is debate over whether scientists should even classify them as two different strains, Boucaud said.

At this point, there is not enough data to know whether the strains manifest differently — for example, whether one is more aggressive than the other — or to know whether contracting one strain give individuals immunity from the other, Boucaud said.

Question: How long does it take for COVID-19 test results to come back?

Answer: Right now, the typical turnaround time for COVID-19 test results is between three and five days, Brown said.

Brown also shared some good news. A few days ago, the Federal Drug Administration approved a new rapid test that should decrease the time it takes for patients to get results, Brown said.

The test can deliver results in under an hour, National Public Radio reported.

However, it will take time before that test comes to our communities, according to the professor.

Question: If you have COVID-19, when do you stop being contagious?

Answer: Brown listed three main criteria those recovering from COVID-19 should meet before it is safe for them to stop sequestering themselves:

1. You have to be fever-free without the help of medications for 72 hours.

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2. Your symptoms have to have significantly improved. Fever, cough and shortness of breath should have gone away. However with the flu, it is possible for the cough to linger for weeks, which doesn’t mean you’re contagious but that your body is healing, Brown said.

3. At least seven days must have passed since the onset of symptoms.

Certain gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, have been added to the list of COVID-19 indicators, Brown said. People with COVID-19 tend to get those symptoms first, and respiratory symptoms develop afterward, according to Brown.

The most critical symptom that indicates you may have COVID-19 is fever, Brown said.

However, there have been cases of COVID-19 where patients do not present with fevers, Boucaud noted, emphasizing that if you are asymptomatic but know you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 you should self quarantine.

“Take serious precautions even if you’re not getting tested,” Boucaud said.

Question: Is it safe to go to a friend’s for dinner? They’re healthy and have been staying at home.

Answer: Someone weighing whether to go to a friend’s house for dinner should consider a number of variables, Brown said. He named examples:

1. Has the host or guest has traveled recently?

2. How many people will be at the dinner?

3. How many people have gone in and out of the house?

It also depends on the status of the virus in your area, Brown said. If there have been lots of cases of COVID-19, it’s best not to go to a friend’s house, Brown said.

Evidence of asymptomatic spread also means folks should take extra precautions, Boucaud said.

“You don’t have to be coughing in order to spread this,” he said.

Question: What can we do to protect healthcare workers?

Answer: First off, Boucaud emphasized that unless you’re really sick, you should not go into the hospital.

“Don’t go in on a whim,” he said. “If you’re just feeling under the weather, stay at home, hunker down.”

Otherwise, you risk exposing healthcare workers, he said.

Even if you are really ill, call ahead before you go to a hospital and let staff know what your symptoms are, Brown said.

Brown had one more piece of advice: don’t hoard N95 respirators, which are vital protection for people on the front lines.

Question: Is it safe to use hiking trails?

Answer: Passing people on hiking trails comes with a low risk of exposure to COVID-19, especially because you’re in open air, Brown said.

However, it’s still vital that hikers social distance, doing their best to stay at least 6 feet away from others, Brown continued.

In short, there’s no reason you can’t be on the trails as long as you maintain distance from people, according to Brown.

Question: Does ultraviolet light kill the virus?

A: Although certain waves of UV light kill the novel coronavirus, sunlight should not be considered an effective antiviral, Boucaud said, adding that you would have to have a lot of exposure to the sun in order for that to work.

Sunlight might, for example, kill the virus on clothing that has been left in the sun for a couple of days, according to Boucaud.

Question: Is there a certain room temperature that can kill the virus? Does heat help?

Answer: The temperature in your home would have to be really, really high to effectively kill the virus, Boucaud said.

In short: cranking up the heat is not a realistic antiviral.

But it is a good idea to wash your clothes in hot water — especially if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, Brown said.

One piece of positive news about coronavirus: basic detergents easily kill it, so there’s no need to throw bleach in the wash, Brown said.

Question: How do we know our food is safe? Are there any extra precautions we should take when we grocery shop to prevent the spread of the virus?

Answer: Although the CDC has said there is no evidence of COVID-19 spreading via food products, it’s always a good idea to wash your food, Brown said.

In addition, data indicates the coronavirus can hold onto surfaces for a couple of days, according to Boucaud, who noted that those surfaces are very particular and include stainless steel, hard plastic and cardboard. The virologist has heard of people wiping down packages from the grocery store, he said.

Question: My mom is 89, living in her own apartment, feeling great. I am her caregiver, bringing her groceries and what not since I will not be taking her out to any stores. Other than washing my hands and no direct contact, what other precautions should I be taking?

Answer: First, Brown thanked this reader for taking most of the proper precautions.

He added just two suggestions:

1. If you start feeling under the weather, stop having contact with your mom.

2. Avoid bringing pets, as the virus can sit in their fur.

Question: I work in a dental practice which is open for routine cleanings and non-emergency procedures. I am in the elder age bracket and have family with immune issues. Should I be working?

Answer: Dental hygienists are at higher risk of contracting the virus because they’re exposed to lots of respiratory secretions, Brown said. Those in fields like dentistry should follow professional guidelines, he continued.

While he would not tell the reader whether or not they should work — that call varies — the employee should protect themselves as much as possible, Brown said.

Question: I have a co-worker who has a family member that may have been exposed to the virus. What should I be doing?

Answer: For now, you don’t need to sequester, as third-degree contact does not mean you will get COVID-19, Brown said.

But you should practice social distancing, Brown said, and if your coworker does get sick, you should self-quarantine.

meghan.friedmann@hearstmediact.com; 781-346-5236.

Meghan Friedmann|Staff Reporter

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