The Independent asked some commonly heard questions of medical authorities this week. Here are their answers.
Is the severity of the situation being overblown?
“No. This is an incredibly serious situation,” said Amelia Boehme, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and an expert on influenza-like diseases. “If we do not slow down the spread of this illness we will be experiencing a situation similar to what is occurring in Italy right now.”
Is it true that you can carry and spread the virus even if you have not experienced any symptoms?
“Yes,” said Boehme. “There are people who have a viral infection who show no signs through the course of the illness. These people are able to transmit the disease. Then there is the incubation phase, where you are symptom-free but contagious. The current evidence suggests that anywhere from 40 to 78 percent of new cases were infected from a person during their pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic phase. The incubation period — the time from when you are infected to when you show symptoms — can be up to 14 days with COVID-19. This could mean you would assume you are not sick because you did not have symptoms, carry on with daily life, and could infect people during that time.”
Is it okay with the kids out of school to arrange play dates with their friends?
“No!” said Boehme. “Social distancing is key to curbing the spread of COVID-19 right now. It is incredibly hard and frustrating to keep kids who are out of school entertained during this outbreak, but play dates can increase the spread and should be avoided.”
Should I wear a face mask if I go out in public?
“Basic primary prevention measures such as good hand hygiene and trying to avoid touching your face can go a long way for helping prevent transmission,” said Dr. Bernard Chang, associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia Medical School. “Wearing a mask is also broadly a good idea, as it not only can help prevent some types of droplet transmission but also prevents you from touching your mouth. Don’t be embarrassed to wear a mask!”
Some people say the severe flu-like virus that afflicted people here this winter must have been coronavirus, so if you had that already you’re now immune. Could that be true?
“Unfortunately, viruses may mutate or change naturally as they spread and the virus that you faced a few months ago may be different than the one more common now,” said Dr. Chang. “So pre-existing immunity to this strain of the coronavirus is not widely known to date.”
Are we better off leaving the city and moving to our second home on the Cape for the duration of the crisis?
“Currently we are estimating that the majority of people in New York City have been exposed to the virus,” said Boehme. “In this event, moving to a new location could increase the spread of disease to these locations. If you do head to a different location, social isolation measures need to be adhered to in order to prevent spread.”
Should we consider taking our elderly parents out of the assisted living where they are and bringing them home to our house where they can be isolated?
“This is a tough question,” said Dr. Chang. “The early cases of COVID in the U.S. struck elderly individuals in care facilities. There isn’t a right answer; it depends on each family’s situation. Many nursing facilities are pausing family visits during this crisis, as it is often the younger, healthier individuals who are at risk of transmitting an infection to an older loved one.”