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All your coronavirus questions answered

NEWS CENTER Maine answers viewer questions as well as some general questions you might have about the coronavirus.

There's a lot of information—and misinformation—out there about the coronavirus. It can get confusing, we understand. So, that's why we've compiled viewer questions we've received as well as some general questions you might have into this straight-forward, easy-to-read FAQ.

I’ve heard a couple of different terms for the current pandemic, what do they mean?

The virus itself is from the coronavirus family. The virus is named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes is called "Coronavirus Disease 2019" or "COVID-19" for short. The important one to remember is COVID-19. You may also hear it referred to as the novel coronavirus. “Novel” in this case means “new.”

What are the symptoms?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists three symptoms to watch out for: fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms generally appear 2-14 days after exposure, and in most cases, these symptoms will be mild. For people with weakened immune systems, the infection can be deadly.

I’m showing symptoms, what do I do now?

Call your doctor to schedule an appointment for a test. If you don’t have a Primary Care Physician, plan to go to an urgent care facility – not an emergency room – and call in advance.

Wear a mask, cover your coughs and sneezes, and frequently clean your hands on your way to be tested.

If you’re showing emergency warning signs, get help however you can. Emergency warning signs include difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or the inability to arouse and bluish lips or face.

Health officials have said “presumptive positive” and “confirmed positive” a lot recently. What’s the difference?

A confirmed positive diagnosis means that the sample came out of a state-run lab. A presumptive positive means that the diagnosis came from a private lab and the results have yet to be cleared by the state.

Tests initially had to go to the U.S. CDC in Atlanta to be called confirmed positive, but federal health officials are now confident in state abilities to accurately diagnose a case of COVID-19.

I’ve been diagnosed. What’s the disease like and how do I care for myself?

For most people, COVID-19 presents like a bad cold. You’ll have a runny nose and an annoying cough and a fever. You may have a hard time getting satisfying breaths. For some, it will be worse – and in those cases, you should seek medical care.

The CDC offers these 10 tips to people with possible or confirmed cases:

  1. Stay home.
  2. Monitor your symptoms carefully.
  3. Get rest and stay hydrated.
  4. If you have a medical appointment, call your healthcare provider in advance and tell them you have COVID-19.
  5. If you call 911, inform them you have COVID-19.
  6. Cover your cough and sneezes.
  7. Wash your hands often with soap and water. At least 20 seconds. Alternately, use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
  8. If you live with others and this is possible, confine yourself to one area and use one bathroom. Wear a facemask if you need to be around others.
  9. Avoid sharing personal items like dishes, towels and bedding.
  10. Clean all surfaces like counters, tabletops and doorknobs.

I was diagnosed and have been home and am feeling better. Can I go in public yet?

Most sources recommend an isolation period of two weeks. If you’re feeling good by the end of that, reach out to your doctor or public health department just to be safe. 

Doctors will want to make sure that patients no longer have fevers, that they’re no longer showing symptoms – including cough – and that they’ve tested negative on at least two consecutive tests collected 24 hours apart.

What can I do to minimize my chances of contracting the disease or passing it along to others?

The best way to avoid contracting COVID-19 is to avoid the virus altogether. 

Doctors are reasonably confident it spreads through respiratory droplets produced when you cough or sneeze. Those droplets contain the virus and will reproduce in your body.

If you can’t just avoid people, practice social distancing. It’s hard for respiratory droplets to travel much more than 6 feet. Maintaining a two-yard space between people will help slow the spread.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially if you’ve been in public, if you’ve blown your nose, coughed or sneezed. 

Hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is also effective. And avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

How do I know I’ve washed my hands enough?

Twenty seconds is long enough. If you don’t have a great internal clock, that’s about the length of “Happy Birthday To You.” If you would prefer to use a different song, this website can help you time out another tune: https://washyourlyrics.com 

Health officials suggest that you wash your hands intensely. Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah describes it as, “the way you would wash your hands if you cut up a bag of jalapeno peppers and needed to take out your contact lenses.”

Stores are out of sanitizers. Can I make my own?

You sure can. MaineHealth’s Dora Mills gives NEWS CENTER Maine the recipe:

How does the disease transmit?

The virus is new, so there are still questions about it, but doctors are reasonably certain that it transmits from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing. It is called community transmission or community spread.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is basically just keeping your space. Imagine a six-foot bubble around the people near you and don’t intrude on that space. COVID-19 needs you to be close to other people to spread. Outsmart the virus by creating a little space.

What’s the difference between quarantine and isolation?

Quarantine is designed to keep people who’ve been exposed to a disease separated from the general public until we’re sure they’re not going to infect others. The word comes from the Italian word for “forty days,” as historically that’s how long sailors were kept at port when suspected of carrying disease back in the 14th century. 

For COVID-19, the CDC says the period of quarantine is 14 days from the last date of exposure because 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses. Someone who has been released from COVID-19 quarantine is not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others because they have not developed illness during the incubation period. 

Isolation is for people who have not just been exposed to the disease but who have tested positive for it. 

What is “flattening the curve”?

This term describes how to visualize the effects of an unchecked pandemic versus one where people are taking preventive steps to limit its spread. If you chart out infections over time with unchecked spread, you wind up with a graph that looks like a steep mountain. A quickly spread disease can easily overwhelm a country’s health system.

The chart for a pandemic with a public health response will look more like a camel’s hump in profile. A similar number of people may be infected, but the disease will spread more slowly and not be as large a drain on healthcare resources.

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I made plans a few weeks ago to go to a concert/restaurant/show. Has that been canceled?

Probably. Check with the venue.

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You’ll never believe it, I just saw a gym/restaurant/bar open. Why are they open when the schools are closed?

There are a few businesses that have elected to remain open because there hasn’t been an official government mandate yet, just strong recommendations.

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Does the virus live on food or other surfaces?

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that the virus spreads through food, although you should always wash off fruits and vegetables before consumption. 

It is likely possible that the virus spreads from touching a contaminated surface, but this is not the primary way it spreads. Current evidence suggests it can live for hours or maybe days on the surface of various materials. Consistently washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and sanitizing common areas will help prevent the spread.

Can it be passed by insects like mosquitos?

At this time, no data suggests that mosquitos and other bugs transmit the virus.

Is the postal service still safe?

According to the World Health Organization, the risk of transmitting the virus on a letter or package is extremely low.

Can my pets get it?

There is no evidence right now, according to the CDC, that pets can get sick with COVID-19. However, federal health authorities still recommend exercising good hygiene around animals including pets, livestock, and wildlife. So wash your hands after giving out some scratches and pats.

Interpreters at press conferences have been very animated. Why is that?

American Sign Language (ASL) is not just a transcription of words like Morse Code. It is a robust, distinct language with its own grammatical rules and quirks – the same as English, Spanish, French or what-have-you. But because ASL doesn’t have intonation or inflection, speakers rely on expressions and positions to help convey a message. 

Facial expressions can intensify or minimize adjectives and adverbs, add to the conditional mood or just reflect another speaker’s emotions. Expressions and positions are baked into ASL – they’re an essential part of the language.

If I contract COVID-19 and recover, do I have an immunity? If I’m immune, can I still transmit the disease?

The first part is complicated. Several people have tested positive twice but there could be problems with the tests. And how a person develops an immunity is largely based on that person’s individual experience with the virus. Some people who contract only a minor version of COVID-19 could be susceptible to getting it again.

Even with immunity, though, you can absolutely still transmit the disease. Wash your hands, maintain social distances.

I’m pregnant, does that put me at a higher risk or do I have additional things to worry about?

Unfortunately, there’s not enough research to know for certain how COVID-19 affects pregnancy. Right now the CDC is just advising that expecting parents take extra precautions to not get sick. 

CDC officials say that other similar conditions are not passed through breast milk but there isn’t much research on this specific virus. Talk with your OB/GYN about how best to care for yourself and your new family.

Do schools have to close?

Mostly, yes. The buildings have to, anyway. Gov. Janet Mills ordered that schools stop classroom-based instruction indefinitely.

Do daycares have to close?

Since most daycares are private institutions, they’re free to set their own rules. 

Federal officials have recommended limiting gatherings of ten or more, but many daycares have smaller groups and fall under that benchmark. The CDC does offer advice for people in the childcare industry.

Is there help for people – especially in the service industry – who find themselves without work?

At this time there is no nation-wide resource available for people in the service industry or for musicians/entertainers who have to cancel shows. Here in Maine, Mills is encouraging anyone who is out of work because of the impacts of the disease to file an unemployment claim

You didn’t answer my question. Who has more resources?

It never hurts to check in with the CDC. Maine’s 211 is also able to provide more information.

This is a lot and I feel overwhelmed.

Yes, it is and that’s totally understandable. Just practice generally cleanliness, stay home and keep some distance in public if you have to go out.

And if you need a coronavirus breather, check out this relaxing and beautiful video by NEWS CENTER Maine photojournalist Kirk Cratty.

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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