he rapid spread of COVID-19 has sparked alarm worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared this rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, and many countries are grappling with a rise in confirmed cases. Amidst this, the researchers at Harvard Medical School have answered a number of questions about the deadly virus. Excerpts:
Should I go to the doctor or dentist for non-urgent appointments?
During this period of social distancing, it is best to postpone non-urgent appointments with your doctor or dentist. You should also postpone routine screening tests, such as a mammogram or PSA blood test, if you are at average risk of disease. As an alternative, doctors’ offices are increasingly providing tele-health services. This may mean appointments by phone call, or virtual visits using a video chat service. What if your appointments are not urgent but also don’t fall into the low-risk category? In these cases, call your doctor for advice.
How reliable is the test for COVID-19?
Tests are becoming more widely available and are being processed in commercial labs and academic centres. In the US, the most common test for COVID-19 looks for viral RNA in a sample taken with a swab from a person’s nose or throat. Currently, you can expect the test results within three to four days. Likely the turnaround time for results will be shorter over the next few weeks. If a test result comes back positive, it is almost certain that the person is infected.
A negative test result is less definite. An infected person could get a so-called “false negative” test result if the swab missed the virus, for example, or because of an inadequacy of the test itself. If you experience COVID-like symptoms and get a negative test result, there is no reason to repeat the test unless your symptoms get worse. If your symptoms do worsen, call your doctor or local or state healthcare department for guidance on further testing.
With social distancing rules in place, libraries, recreational sports and bigger sports events, and other venues parents often take kids to are closing down. Are there any thumb rules regarding play dates? I don’t want my kids parked in front of screens all day.
Ideally, to make social distancing truly effective, there shouldn’t be play dates. If you can be reasonably sure that the friend is healthy and has had no contact with anyone who might be sick, then playing with a single friend might be okay, but we can’t really be sure if anyone has had contact.
Outdoor play dates, where you can create more physical distance, might be a compromise. Something like going for a bike ride, or a hike, allows you to be together while sharing fewer germs (bringing and using hand sanitizer is still a good idea). You need to have ground rules, though, about distance and touching, and if you don’t think it’s realistic that your children will follow those rules, then don’t do the play date even if it is outdoors.
I have a chronic medical condition that puts me at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, even though I’m only in my 30s. What can I do to reduce my risk?
You can take the following steps to lower your risk of getting infected:
- As much as possible, limit contact with people outside your family.
- Maintain enough distance (six feet or more) between yourself and anyone outside your family.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds.
- As best you can, avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Stay away from people who are sick.
- During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your home, such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables, every day.
I have asthma. If I get COVID-19, am I more likely to become seriously ill?
Yes, asthma may increase your risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
However, you can take steps to lower your risk of getting infected in the first place. These include
- Social distancing
- Washing your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds
- Not touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Staying away from people who are sick.
- In addition, you should continue to take your asthma medicines as prescribed to keep your asthma under control.
I live with my children and grandchildren. What can I do to reduce the risk of getting sick when caring for my grandchildren?
In a situation where there is no choice — such as if the grandparent lives with the grandchildren — then the family should do everything they can to try to limit the risk of COVID-19. The grandchildren should be isolated as much as possible, as should the parents, so that the overall family risk is as low as possible.
Everyone should wash their hands very frequently throughout the day, and surfaces should be wiped clean frequently. Physical contact should be limited to the absolutely necessary.
How long can coronavirus stay airborne?
A study done by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Laboratory of Virology in the Division of Intramural Research in Hamilton, Montana helps to answer this question. The researchers used a nebulizer to blow coronaviruses into the air. They found that infectious viruses could remain in the air for up to three hours. The results of the study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine March 17, 2020.
Is it safe to take ibuprofen?
Some French doctors advise against using ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, many generic versions) for COVID-19 symptoms based on reports of otherwise healthy people with confirmed COVID-19 who were taking an NSAID for symptom relief and developed a severe illness, especially pneumonia. These are only observations and not based on scientific studies.
The WHO initially recommended using acetaminophen instead of ibuprofen to help reduce fever and aches and pains related to this coronavirus infection, but now states that either acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used. Rapid changes in recommendations create uncertainty. Since some doctors remain concerned about NSAIDs, it still seems prudent to choose acetaminophen first, with a total dose not exceeding 3,000 milligrams per day.