Coronavirus Myths Busted, Questions Answered, And Anxieties (Maybe) Eased

Mar 19, 2020

When the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Louisiana on March 9, we all took a collective, stumbling step into a new world.

This new world has a lot of hand washing and hand wringing. Questions swirl, myths zip around the internet faster than anyone can swat them down, and anxiety climbs and climbs and climbs.

So, let's talk about it. All of it. And maybe settle it.

How does it spread?

The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus that spreads primarily through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose.

What exactly is “social distancing,” and how extreme should I be about it?

Very extreme, if you ask the experts (and we did). You should not socialize with anyone outside of your household, and if you do — while walking on the sidewalk or speaking with a neighbor, say — you should keep a distance of about 6 feet. (The length of an adult alligator, as someone helpfully pointed out on Twitter.)

But can’t I still see a few friends?

Limit yourself to your family/household only. Do not have interactions with friends or neighbors. It is impossible to tell who is shedding the virus, especially because people can be asymptomatic carriers.

I’m young and healthy, why should I be concerned?

Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. While it is unlikely the virus could prove fatal for you (though it still could) you could carry the virus without even knowing it or with very minor symptoms, and you could infect a more vulnerable person.

I’m sick. When should you go to the doctor?

Don’t go in. Call a doctor first. Health care officials want to cut down on the risk of spread, so they don’t want a bunch of potentially sick people coming to the hospital unless it's necessary.

They will first screen you over the phone to determine whether you should be tested. The first thing a health professional will ask you is if you have a fever (a body temperature of at least 100.4 degrees), so be sure to have an oral thermometer on hand.

If you don’t have health insurance or a health care provider, call 211 for a screening. Ochsner Health has also set up an info helpline: 844-888-2772.

I might be sick. Should I quarantine?

If you have a fever, sore throat and shortness of breath, just assume you have the virus. Quarantine immediately. That means being away from everyone — even your roommate, spouse and children (and pets!). If you make the decision to remain in contact with anyone, they should go into quarantine with you.

This means no contact with other humans. Have your groceries delivered. You can still go for walks, but keep a distance of at least six feet from other folks.

Read the CDC guidelines here

I know someone who tested positive for coronavirus. What should I do?

It depends on how you know them, whether you’ve had contact with them, and how far you stood from them and how long you talked. This is largely why officials are asking us to restrict our interactions.

If you were potentially exposed, inform your employer and socially isolate, so as not to contribute to the spread.

What’s the point of testing?

The point of testing is to help those who have it isolate themselves and prevent further spread. But if you test negative now, that doesn’t mean you won’t get it later on.

Currently, medical professionals are discouraging people from testing just to see if they have it because it may result in a false sense of security. You may be negative today and then positive with symptoms — or with no symptoms — tomorrow.

Do vaccines against pneumonia protect you against the new coronavirus?

No. Vaccines against pneumonia do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are working to develop one.

Why is the number of cases rising so fast in Louisiana?

The virus probably went undetected here for a long time. There is evidence to suggest it was being spread in Louisiana as early as Mardi Gras. Health care officials are finally testing people now, and there are likely many, many more cases than are being reported because it’s only the most symptomatic people who end up getting tested. Health care experts say each person who has contracted it will infect 2.6 other people. To understand the rate of spread better, check out this graphic

How long is this outbreak going to last?

The short answer is: we don’t know.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested the crisis could last through July or August. Morgan Katz, an assistant professor of infectious disease at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, recently told the New York Times that, based on the virus’s trajectory in China, we could begin to “feel like we’re coming out of this” in May. But a new report from researchers at Imperial College London found that the U.S. and U.K. will need to continue social distancing measures on and off for 18 months to truly stem the virus’s spread.

Is it possible that the coronavirus was created by a foreign government as a form of biological warfare?

This is a conspiracy theory. A team of scientists analyzed the genome sequence of this coronavirus and found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered

I’ve seen some funny pictures of people wearing full face masks made out of plastic water bottles. Do those work?

Masks are only so effective. The viral droplets enter through your nose, eyes and mouth — so hypothetically if you cover those orifices, that would cut down on your risk of infection. Turning your head to the side will arguably have the same effect.

Paper masks are recommended for those who are already sick, as they cut down on the spread of large droplets, but small droplets can still spread the virus.

It’s getting warmer every day. Can the virus be transmitted by mosquitoes?

At this time, we have no data to suggest that COVID-19 or other similar coronaviruses (e.g. SARS, MERS) are spread by mosquitoes or ticks. For a virus to pass to a person through a mosquito or tick bite, the virus must be able to replicate inside the mosquito or tick.

If you get it, do you then have immunity?

Researchers and public health professionals are unsure whether getting sick with the virus results in immunity. Some limited tests in China suggest lifelong immunity, other studies suggest otherwise.

Researchers continue to study this. So don’t rest assured that once you’ve had it, you’re immune.

People wait in line for the walk-up window at The Orange Couch in New Orleans.
Credit Ashley Dean / WWNO

Does it live on surfaces? How long does it live outside the body?

Estimates vary on this from a few hours up to a few days. This very much depends on the surface conditions, such as whether it’s wet and warm, which would allow the virus to live longer. (Stay away from water fountains in the south!)

Is it true that Aspirin weakens your ability to fight the virus?

Public health professionals haven’t reached consensus on this.

The French health minister has recommended taking acetaminophen instead. He claims nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen worsened symptoms of the illness.

But the experts we spoke to said there wasn’t enough evidence. For now, take whatever makes you feel better. To learn more about this argument, check this out

Quarantine is making me CRAZY. What do I do?????

Mental health professionals say humans are pack animals, so we crave human contact. Try to do this virtually — call or video chat friends and family, take online classes, attend online concerts or yoga classes, even wave to people outside of the window!

Try to check out of the news from time to time, as the constant flow of information can be stressful. Cut down on screen time at night to facilitate better sleep. Try to come up with a self-care routine, even if it differs from your usual self-care — take a walk (but keep a 6-foot distance!), take a virtual tour of a museum, do a free online yoga class, or try using a mindfulness app.

Can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus?

No.

Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (like your eyes and mouth).

Can eating garlic help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?

Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties, but there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.

Are all races as susceptible?

Yes. There have been some rumors that people of African descent are less susceptible. The numbers do not bear that out.

SOURCES: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Louisiana Department of Health, Ochsner, Tulane School of Public Health