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Health Team

Coronavirus Q&A: Your questions, expert answers on coronavirus

Posted March 6, 2020 3:20 p.m. EST
Updated April 19, 2020 12:53 a.m. EDT

— As the coronavirus continues to spread across North Carolina and the rest of the country, WRAL News is getting answers to some of the most common questions about the pandemic. Find out how to keep your family safe, what symptoms you should look for, how you can help the medical community, what businesses are open, and more.

How many cases of coronavirus are there in North Carolina and the U.S.?

As of April 5, North Carolina had 2,637 cases, 261 hospitalizations and 39 deaths, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services and county health departments. Across the U.S., more than 337,000 cases and 9,600 deaths have been reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These numbers are constantly changing.

Total NC coronavirus cases, deaths

Reporters at WRAL News are tracking real-time updates of the latest cumulative totals of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths across North Carolina. The number of patients currently hospitalized are reported daily by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services every morning and are a reflection of a daily survey of hospitals. Because the response rate of that survey varies day to day, we're showing a rolling 7-day average of hospitalizations calculated since the state began reporting numbers consistently on March 24.

Source: DHHS, county health departments
Graphic: Tyler Dukes, WRAL

How does the death rate of the coronavirus compare to the flu?

New numbers are coming out all the time, but the latest study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal on March 30 estimated that about 0.66% of those infected with the virus will die.

That death rate is lower than earlier estimates because it accounts for potentially milder cases that may go undiagnosed, according to CNN, but it's still higher than the 0.1% of people who are killed by the flu each year. When undetected infections weren’t taken into account, the Lancet study found that the coronavirus death rate was 1.38%, which is more consistent with earlier reports, according to CNN.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Fever, coughing and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms of coronavirus, according to the CDC, and they can range from mild to severe. An odd symptom that might indicate you have the early stages of coronavirus is lack of sense of smell and taste.

While fever is a symptom, doctors say not to fixate on a number. You don’t technically have a fever until your temperature reaches at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and that goes for both children and adults. Also, it’s better to take your temperature in the late afternoon and early evening, when fevers are more likely to spike.

If you are coughing, watch out for dry coughs that you feel in your chest.

"It's not a tickle in your throat. You're not just clearing your throat. It's not just irritated. You're not putting anything out, you're not coughing anything up," infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner told CNN. "The cough is bothersome, it's coming from your breastbone or sternum and you can tell that your bronchial tubes are inflamed or irritated.”

One possible sign that you might have COVID-19 is if your symptoms, especially shortness of breath, don't improve after a week or so but actually worsen.

What should I do if I feel sick but am not sure if I have coronavirus?

"At this moment, the current guidance -- and this may change -- is that if you have symptoms that are similar to the cold and the flu and these are mild symptoms to moderate symptoms, stay at home and try to manage them," said American Medical Association president Dr. Patrice Harris, who suggested rest, hydration and fever-reducing medications.

That advice does not apply if you are over age 60, are pregnant or have underlying health conditions. Anyone with concerns about coronavirus should call their doctor, according to the CDC.

If you have trouble breathing, persistent pain in your chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face, call your doctor, local urgent care or ER immediately. If the shortness of breath is severe enough, you should call 911.

Where and how can I get tested for coronavirus?

While supplies of tests are increasing, it may still be difficult to find a place to get tested, according to the CDC. If you have symptoms of coronavirus and want to get tested, try calling your doctor or state or local health department.

Not everyone needs to be tested for coronavirus, according to the CDC, including those who have a mild illness and are able to recover at home. However, some people still want to be tested so they can tell those they have come in contact with.

Decisions about testing are at the discretion of state and local health departments and individual doctors, according to the CDC.

Coronavirus testing in NC

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services started releasing the total number of patients tested, including those conducted by private labs and public health departments, on March 18. This figure only reflects labs that are reporting to local and state health officials. DHHS doesn't publish raw numbers detailing daily negative and positive tests from labs reporting both of these figures - just percentages. So WRAL is calculating the percentage of positive tests here cumulatively, instead of day over day, to avoid any potential skew of daily figurs by either a lag in the reported number of positive/negative cases or a surge in positive cases from labs that don't report both positive and negative results.

Source: N.C. DHHS
Graphic: Tyler Dukes, WRAL

Who is at highest risk for coronavirus?

Contracting the coronavirus is riskier if you are older or have underlying health conditions, according to the CDC. Those most at-risk include:

  • People 65 years and older
  • People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:
  • Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • Serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised (such as cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications.)
  • Severe obesity (body mass index of 40 or higher)
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • Liver disease

How long does coronavirus live on a surface? Can I get coronavirus from a package?

Although the coronavirus mainly spreads from person to person, it is possible for you to get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, according to the CDC.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that coronavirus was detectable for up to three hours in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

How do I make a mask?

Masks are in high demand these days, especially N95 masks, which filter out at least 95% of very small particles, including bacteria and viruses. If you don't have access to a mask, the CDC says you can try using a homemade one, such as one you sew yourself or a bandana or scarf. However, they do not qualify as personal protective equipment and may not fully protect you.

Most regular facemasks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when you inhale, the CDC reported.

Joann Fabric and Craft Store has also posted instructions on its website for sewing your own mask, including what materials you’ll need. The company suggests using 100% cotton, but says any cotton materials will be acceptable. The company has a goal of donating 100 million masks to the country’s medical personnel.

Using household items such as bandanas and scarves should be considered a last-resort for healthcare professionals, the CDC said. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.

Triangle hospitals have asked for donations of medical supplies, especially personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care providers.

The biggest needs include N95 masks, surgical masks (with and without shields), disposable gloves, disposable shoe covers, eye protection and handmade masks. Other needs include nasal swabs, disinfectant, hand sanitizer with more than 60 percent alcohol and hand soap.

Contact your local hospital to ask about dropping off equipment. Some of the hospitals requesting equipment have provided the following information:

Supplies for Duke Health can be dropped off at 100 Golden Drive, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

People can email WakeMed at info@wakemed.org to inform them what items they have. Due to high volume, all individuals and organizations that email will be contacted within 24 to 48 hours regarding the items and the process for making the donation.

Anyone providing donations to Cape Fear Valley Health is asked to call 910-615-1285 to schedule a drop-off at the Medical Arts Building, 101 Robeson St. in Fayetteville.

What is “flattening the curve” and how will we know if it works?

If countries around the world can slow the spread of coronavirus, that means they can "flatten the curve" of infection and buy time for medical facilities to better handle the influx of seriously ill patients.

WRAL.com is tracking the curve showing confirmed new cases – along with a rolling average of new cases – in the U.S. You can also see how other countries’ responses to the virus compare to the U.S. The charts are updated daily.

What is the treatment for coronavirus?

There is currently no specific treatment for coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. It could take a year or more for a vaccine to be developed.

Patients with symptoms should try to rest, stay hydrated and take fever-reducing medications, according to American Medical Association President Dr. Patrice Harris.

Does the flu or pneumonia vaccine protect against coronavirus? Is there a vaccine for coronavirus?

The short answer is no. The pneumococcal vaccine and flu vaccine will not provide any protection against the coronavirus, according to Dr. Allen Mask.

“We don't have a coronavirus vaccine right now,” he said. “We're thinking there's probably about 12 to 18 months out.”

Mask says it’s still good for people to get pneumococcal and flu vaccines, even though it won’t help with coronavirus, because it helps build your immune system and you’ll be healthier because of that.

Are people contagious before they're exhibiting the symptoms?

People are believed to be most contagious when they are the sickest, according to the CDC, but some spread might be possible before people show symptoms.

The CDC says there have been reports of people spreading the virus before showing symptoms, but it’s not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

How long are people with coronavirus contagious?

It varies, and decisions about when a person can be released from isolation are made on a case-by-case basis, according to CNN.

The CDC has issued the following guidelines:

People with coronavirus who have stayed home can stop home isolation under the following conditions:

If you will not have a test to determine if you are still contagious, you can leave home after these three things have happened:

  • You have had no fever for at least 72 hours (that is three full days of no fever without the use medicine that reduces fevers) AND
  • Other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved) AND
  • At least 7 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared

If you will be tested to determine if you are still contagious, you can leave home after these three things have happened:

  • You no longer have a fever (without using medicine that reduces fevers) AND
  • Other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved) AND
  • You received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart. Your doctor will follow CDC guidelines.

The CDC recommends that, in all cases, you should follow the guidance of your doctor and local health department.

If I get coronavirus, will I develop immunity to it? If so, how long will I be immune?

If you get coronavirus and recover, it’s unlikely that you will get re-infected unless you have an underlying immune deficiency, according to Timothy Sheahan, an assistant professor of epidemiology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Some of the things that I've been reading … say that your body makes antibodies to the virus, which protects you, which come up maybe after a few weeks and are present there at least until a month after you've recovered.”

State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson said the reason COVID-19 is spreading so easily is that “nobody has the antibody to it because nobody has been infected with this particular strain before. So, you haven't built up that immunity.”

Can my pets get coronavirus? Can my pets give me coronavirus?

So far, the CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 in the U.S., and there is no reason at this time to think that any animals might be a source of infection.

Pets have other types of coronaviruses that can make them sick, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, the CDC says. But they cannot infect people and are not related to the current outbreak.

However, the CDC adds, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around animals, such as washing your hands and maintaining good hygiene.

What jobs/industries are considered essential and why?

In Gov. Roy Cooper’s March 27 stay-at-home order, he outlines which businesses are considered essential. You can see the full list and more details in his order, but here are some of the jobs that are included:

  • Businesses that meet social distancing requirements (allowing employees to work from home)
  • Critical infrastructure industries, such as pharmaceutical, food supply, construction, airports, etc.
  • Healthcare and public health operations
  • Human services operations, such as long-term care facilities, shelters, childcare centers, etc.
  • Essential governmental operations, such as first responders, emergency dispatchers, lawmakers, judges, law enforcement, etc.
  • Stores that sell groceries and medicine
  • Food, beverage production and agriculture
  • Organizations that provide charitable and social services
  • Media (newspapers, TV, radio, etc.)
  • Gas stations and transportation businesses
  • Financial and insurance institutions
  • Home improvement, hardware and supply stores
  • Critical trades, such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, janitors, etc.
  • Laundry services
  • Home-based care and services
  • Defense and military contractors
  • Funeral services

Can I report a business for staying open? For not following social distance guidelines?

From hospitals and doctors offices to grocery and home improvement stores, employees want protection from COVID-19 and protection from losing their paycheck. That leads to some difficult choices.

North Carolina is an "at-will" state, meaning employers can fire workers "at will" for just about any reason except for discrimination against a protected class.

If you believe your workplace is dangerous, file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

When are special shopping hours for seniors and at-risk people? Can I get help with groceries, prescription delivery, etc.?

WRAL’s SmartShopper has an updated list of stores with special hours for seniors and other at-risk shoppers. Many of the shopping times are early in the morning.

In addition to reserved shopping times, many businesses and organizations are offering delivery and drive-through services to help seniors reduce contact and still find the essentials they need, including free prescription delivery, free curbside grocery pick-up, grocery delivery options and food pantry assistance.

What stores are open and when?

Many grocery and drug stores have reduced their hours to allow for extra cleaning and stocking time. Many have also added special shopping hours for seniors and those at greater risk during this pandemic.

WRAL’s SmartShopper has an updated list of store hours and will continue tracking announcements by the stores’ corporate offices.

Will I get a stimulus check? How much?

The federal government is sending checks — or making direct deposits — to most Americans of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. But that figure can change based on your income and other factors.

WRAL.com has a coronavirus relief calculator so you can find out how much you are projected to receive. Just answer four questions to get your result.

I heard or saw something on the Internet about coronavirus. How can I find out if it is true?

Getting accurate, up-to-date information about the coronavirus is crucial, and you should try to verify any information you find online, especially if it’s not from a reputable news source or government agency.

North Carolina Poison Control has established a hotline, available 24/7 and staffed by nurses and pharmacists, to answer questions about coronavirus, including symptoms, how to assess and reduce the risk of catching the virus and what to do if you think you have the virus. Call 1-866-462-3821.

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