The World Health Organization (WHO) did a live Q&A via TikTok on the morning of March 17 to discuss the ongoing pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). To start, Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious-disease epidemiologist and COVID-19 technical lead at WHO, addressed a lot of the information we already know. For example, common symptoms are difficulty breathing, fever, and dry cough. Also, elderly people and those with compromised immune systems due to an underlying condition — diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease such as asthma, etc. — are more at risk.
Other basics include the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus: since it spreads through droplets or fomites, meaning infected surfaces, wash your hands and cover your sneezes and coughs — Dr. Van Kerkhove calls this "respiratory etiquette" — and practice physical distancing. Under WHO guidelines, only wear masks if you're infected. Basics aside, here are some of the key questions from the public that Dr. Van Kerkhove answered, some of which you might have been wondering about yourself.
Is It Dangerous to Go Outside and Shop?
Dr. Van Kerkhove said you should generally follow the guidance of national authorities and the guidelines given to you from your respected places of residence. Basically, if you're recommended to stay home, stay home and try to order online or receive packages to your house (these can be cleaned through disinfectants). But, if you have to leave your home, you can go shopping because, she said, "the virus is not in the air." You can't walk outside or go into a grocery store and automatically get infected. Just remember to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and try not to have close contact with other people.
Should We Disinfect Groceries?
You don't need to disinfect your groceries, Dr. Van Kerkhove said. However, you do need to wash your fruits and vegetables as you normally would and wash your hands after touching exposed surfaces because you're killing the virus that could potentially be on your hands.
Is It Safe to Still Meet Up With Friends?
Dr. Van Kerkhove said that the safest thing you can do right now is avoid being in groups of people, including meeting up with friends. She uses the phrase "physical distancing" as opposed to social distancing because you can still get together or communicate over social media and other technologies; you just shouldn't be socializing in the traditional sense. As we've seen, many local governments are closing bars and restaurants, so be smart about inviting people over to your house and meeting up with others. Also, stay patient.
What Should You Do If a Person You Live With Seems Sick?
When in doubt, give your doctor a call, Dr. Van Kerkhove advised. It's important to not just look at their symptoms, but to also look at their age and underlying conditions. If you or someone you live with feels unwell, stay home, but if you're experiencing shortness of breath, it's most likely important to go get checked out by the doctor. One note, though: give the doctor a call first before going in. (See why below.) Additionally, here are suggestions from the CDC about preparing your home for the coronavirus.
Why Is It Important to Call Your Doctor About the Coronavirus Before Going In?
"What we don't want right now is a lot of people who don't need medical care to go into a healthcare facility and overwhelm the healthcare facility," Dr. Van Kerkhove stressed. They're trying to save hospital beds and in-person time for the people who are at risk or whose symptoms are more severe. If you have any doubts at all, call your doctor right away and get medical advice. Speaking with your own healthcare provider is helpful because they know your medical history better, Dr. Van Kerkhove said.
Are the Coronavirus Symptoms in Kids Different?
Dr. Van Kerkhove noted that we're still learning about the coronavirus every day, but WHO does know that children seem to be getting infected at a lower rate than adults. And, though there are some children with severe symptoms — and one who died in China, according to Dr. Van Kerkhove — the majority of cases in kids are mild. This means similar symptoms that adults with mild cases are having: cough, fever, aches and pains, and gastrointestinal symptoms at times.
How Long Do Coronavirus Symptoms Last?
For those with mild cases, symptoms can last for around two weeks, Dr. Van Kerkhove said. For people who have a severe form of the disease, it may take a bit longer in the event that they are hospitalized, meaning three to six weeks.
Can You Get the Coronavirus Twice?
Again, Dr. Van Kerkhove said that the coronavirus is still a new disease — we're only about 12 weeks into the pandemic, she noted — so we're still learning about it. That being said, WHO does know that people can be infected and recover from symptoms after a few weeks (indicated above), but they could still show evidence of having this disease for some time after (aka, testing PCR positive still). Some reports from China and Japan suggest that you might be able to get infected again, though WHO doesn't believe this is the case. "The question is whether or not they can be re-infected. We don't believe so, but we need more tests to be able to look at the immune response in an individual, and those are called serologic tests," Dr. Van Kerkhove said, noting that continued research needs to be done.
What Is Coronavirus Testing Like?
Doctors don't administer coronavirus testing as a blood test. Instead, "they use what looks almost like a Q-tip and they put it in the back of your nose," Dr. Van Kerkhove explained. Or, they take a swab from the back of your throat. She noted that it's a little bit uncomfortable but not painful. For people who are in the hospital, doctors may take a lower respiratory sample.
If a Person Who Is Pregnant Gets the Coronavirus, Can Their Baby Get It, Too?
There is evidence of the coronavirus in pregnant women, but it doesn't seem to cause a different disease than someone who isn't pregnant, Dr. Van Kerkhove said. Additionally, WHO hasn't seen transmission of the coronavirus from mother to fetus. You can also get more information on the CDC website, and WHO released new guidelines for clinicians working with hospitalized people, including pregnant woman, which you can download here.
A Final Note
Bottom line? In protecting yourself, you're protecting other people. Dr. Van Kerkhove said this is the first pandemic in history that we can potentially control if we take the proper measures. Countries that saw initial spikes such as China, Singapore, and Korea have now turned a corner because of their own strict protocols taken to control the cases. There is hope, but we need to be diligent, she said. "Fear is normal . . . what we don't want is panic," she added, further stating that we want to turn that fear into action and help those in need.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.