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Experts answer your COVID-19 questions

  • Experts answer your COVID-19 questions

    America watched on Dec. 14 as the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine were administered to health care workers across the country. These vaccinations were considered a victory by many doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers who chose to get the shots in order to better protect their patients.

    As of Dec. 22, 2.2 million people were vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. With case counts on that same date totalling 17.8 million, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts have advocated for Americans to wear masks, avoid travel and gatherings if they are able, and find other ways to reduce their risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

    Scientific evidence on the coronavirus has grown and changed significantly throughout the pandemic, making it challenging for many to determine how to safely balance COVID-19 risk with work, family, and other obligations. The Atlantic’s Ed Yong pointed out that over 70,000 COVID-related scientific papers have been published since last December: “more than twice as many as there are about polio, measles, cholera, dengue, or other diseases that have plagued humanity for centuries.”

    70,000 papers is a lot of evidence to sift through. Luckily, SciLine, a science communication service affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has been on top of the scientific discourse since the virus hit America. The organization has been compiling quotes from COVID-19 experts since March on different science and public health topics ranging from vaccine development to how online learning impacts children’s mental health.

    Stacker selected 50 such quotes that answer common questions Americans may have had on the pandemic in order to clear up some confusion about COVID-19. Quotes are organized in chronological order to reflect the growing and changing nature of scientific knowledge during this pandemic.

    Keep reading to find out about COVID-19’s origins, how it spreads, and how you can help mitigate risk in your own life.

    Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length/clarity.

    Understanding COVID-19 with Stacker:
    States with the highest COVID-19 infection rates
    From Wuhan to the White House: A timeline of COVID-19’s spread
    How vaccines get made and approved in the US
    15 ways doctors are now treating COVID-19
    27 factors that make you vulnerable to COVID-19
    35 COVID-19 symptoms to be aware of

  • Talking to kids about COVID-19

    - Question: How should parents talk to their children about COVID-19?
    - Expert: Robin Gurwitch, Ph.D., Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University
    - Date: March 30

    “Parents and caregivers need to talk to their children and their teens without waiting for them to bring it up. Words could be as simple as, 'There’s been a lot of talk about coronavirus or COVID-19, tell me what you know about it.' For teens, you may use that opening or you may even say something like, 'Tell me what your friends have been saying about it.' By listening, you will hear their understanding and be able to gently correct any misinformation and misperceptions that they may have about the disease. Adults may be worried that talking about coronavirus would actually make it worse. The research doesn’t bear that out.”

  • Washing hands

    - Question: How should people clean their hands to avoid viral transmission?
    - Expert: Syed A. Sattar, MSc, Dip Bact, MS, PhD, RM (CCM), FAAM, FRSPH Emeritus Professor of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, Univ. of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    - Date: March 30

    “Handwashing with plain soap and water remains the best and the safest means of decontaminating hands. Proper handwashing constitutes (1) prewetting of hands with water; (2) application of soap (liquid, bar, or foam) followed by lathering for about 20 seconds; (3) thorough rinsing of the lathered hands with water; and (4) drying of the rinsed hand with a paper towel, cloth towel, or a warm-air hand dryer. Immediate recontamination of the washed hands must be avoided by turning off the tap with one’s elbows, for example.”

  • Trouble signs for kids

    - Question: What are signs of trouble parents should be watching for in their children?
    - Expert: Robin Gurwitch, Ph.D., Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University
    - Date: March 30

    “What we often see is that they may be more irritable and whiny, even sometimes more defiant than usual, which is challenging. As adults, we’re a little bit more short-tempered and a little bit less patient. So we have to make sure we take a breath and recognize that their irritability and defiance may be a problem of distress. Sleep problems are pretty common in children, so we can’t rule that out. Children may have physiological reactions such as headaches and stomachaches. There may not be a medical reason for them, but they’re still very real. One of the things important to recognize in elementary school children is that attention and concentration may be reduced. Children may have more difficulty in learning new along with being able to attend to it.”

  • Cleaning products

    - Question: What cleaning product ingredients work best against the virus?
    - Expert: Paul Pottinger, MD Professor of Medicine, Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, University of Washington School of Medicine
    - Date: March 30

    “SARS-CoV-2 is not difficult to inactivate: most any standard household disinfectant will do. The EPA provides a list of products that are safe and effective for this purpose.”

  • Isolation and loneliness

    - Question: Do isolation and loneliness pose physical risks to our health?
    - Expert: Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University
    - Date: March 30

    “Just like hunger signals us to eat, loneliness is thought to be a biological drive that motivates us to reconnect. Throughout human history, we have relied on others for survival; proximity to others, particularly trusted others, signals safety. So when we lack proximity to trusted others, our brain and body may respond with a state of heightened alert. This can result in increased blood pressure, stress hormones, and inflammatory responses—which if experienced on a chronic basis, can put us at increased risk for a variety of chronic illnesses.”

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  • COVID-19 stress

    - Question: Whether it is normal to feel so much stress about COVID-19.
    - Expert: Roxane Cohen Silver, Ph.D., Professor of Psychological Science, Medicine, and Public Health at University of California, Irvine
    - Date: March 30

    “It's important to acknowledge uncertainty is stressful and that anxiety is appropriate under current circumstances. This is a normal reaction to our new normal. And it’s important that journalists acknowledge this fact. It’s also important that we tell the truth. The situation may get worse before it gets better. Evidence is strongly suggesting that we are probably not yet in the eye of the storm. But there is a potential to help frame a more positive message: If we work together, we can save lives. And minimizing the uncertainty is disingenuous.”

  • Positive outcomes

    - Question: Whether there are positive outcomes to be had from this pandemic.
    - Expert: Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University
    - Date: March 30

    “One of the potential positives here is I think we’re starting to see quite widely the recognition of the importance of our relationships. There is some evidence to suggest one of the leading factors for why people don’t participate more socially is they’re too busy. What we’re going through is awful, but it’s also something bringing communities together. We can potentially see more solidarity as people make time to reach out or look out for those in our communities who are more vulnerable. I think this current situation is helping us recognize just how important that is.”

  • Can't get tested

    - Question: What should I do if I think I have the virus but can't access a test?
    - Expert: Carlos del Rio, MD, Distinguished Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) at Emory University School of Medicine and Professor of Epidemiology and Global Health at the Rollins School of Public Health
    - Date: April 3

    “If you think you have the virus but cannot access testing, stay at home and isolate yourself.”

  • Waiting for test results

    - Question: What should I do while I'm waiting for my test results?
    - Expert: Timothy Brewer, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
    - Date: April 3

    “Stay home, preferably in self-isolation away from others, until notified of test results. If the COVID-19 test is positive, remain in self-isolation until your fever has gone away for at least 72 hours (three days) off any fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen. If you never had a fever (or only a few days of fever) you should remain in self-isolation for at least seven days. If you develop any trouble breathing, call your health care provider right away to be evaluated. If the COVID-19 test is negative, stay home until symptoms have gone away and you have no fever for at least 24 hours off any fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen.”

  • Testing for antibodies

    - Question: What's the difference between tests for the virus and tests for antibodies against the virus?
    - Expert: Dr. Claire Standley, Assistant Research Professor, Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University
    - Date: April 3

    “The most common tests that look directly for the virus are based on identifying the virus’ genetic material, or RNA. These tests usually rely on a swab from deep within a patient’s nasal cavity to detect live virus and indicate whether a person is actively infected with COVID-19. Another type of test looks at antibodies, specific proteins that a person’s immune response produces after being infected. Antibodies circulate in the blood and lend themselves to the potential development of easy-to-use, fingerprick-based tests that could be done by people at home. Antibodies can take a week or more from the onset of symptoms to reach sufficient levels for detection. As such, these tests are not effective diagnostic tools to look for active cases of COVID-19 but will be extremely useful in identifying those who have previously been infected and since recovered.”

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