This post was originally published April 16, 2020. For the most up to date information on COVID-19, please visit the CDC.
When it comes to COVID-19, the questions are endless. This virus has touched virtually every aspect of our lives and that’s brought with it a great deal of confusion, concern, and curiosity. We all continue to wonder when we will be able to safely embrace loved ones, go out to eat with friends, and attend long awaited special events. More simply, we dream of a time when we can do our weekly grocery store runs without waiting outside, wearing a mask, and failing to find our favorite foods.
At Parsley Health, our team has been receiving so many important questions from our members about COVID-19, so we decided to pull together some of the most frequently asked ones and let our Parsley Health doctors shed some much needed light.
Q: Going to the grocery store becomes more stressful every week! Is it still okay to go?
Neeti Sharma, MD:
Going to the grocery store is considered an essential errand. If you’re symptom-free and have no known exposure to COVID-19, you can absolutely go to the grocery store to get the goods you need, you’ll just need to adjust how you shop.
I recommend heading to the store with a list of items you need for at least 2 weeks, wearing a fabric mask to cover your nose and mouth, and going during off peak hours. You can consider wearing gloves if they make you feel more comfortable—however, gloves are not considered an effective precautionary measure against COVID-19 as the disease is not transmitted via skin. New data gathered from supermarkets across the country in March and April show that midweek mornings before 10 AM, particularly Wednesdays and Thursdays, are when stores tend to have the fewest shoppers. Weekends continue to be the most hectic time to shop and independent supermarkets tend to be less busy than the big box stores.
When you come home, immediately wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and warm water (even if you wore gloves), and wipe down or wash any groceries you purchased.
Another alternative to going to the store is opting for a grocery delivery service in your area—given high demand, check for delivery openings multiple times per day and at off-hours to catch when slots refresh on the site. If the typical larger services are booked out for weeks despite your creativity, look into local co-op delivery programs and check out your favorite nearby cafes—many of which are now providing grocery staples for takeout.
Q: I’ve been quarantining alone. Is it safe to see my significant other at this time if I do not live with them?
Jaclyn Tolentino, DO:
If you live in a state with a shelter-in-place or a stay at home order (which is currently most states), you shouldn’t be leaving your home for any other reason except those specified by your state. That especially means being in close contact to others who live outside your home—including your partner. Even if you’re both in self-isolation and have agreed to follow the same precautions like wearing a mask to the grocery store or avoiding all other social contact, I would still recommend refraining from visiting each other to further reduce the risk of potential transmission between households.
Social distancing guidelines exist to make sure we minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 wherever possible. Especially if you or your significant other lives with anyone else in the household, including someone who is at greater risk of developing COVID-19, you really should continue to maintain your individual quarantines. This is a great time to develop new habits to stay close while you’re apart. From FaceTime dates to goodnight phone chats, establishing standing routines together is a great way to ensure your presence is still felt in each other’s lives until the threat of the virus has passed.
Q: What if I stay 6 feet away from loved ones at all times, can I see them then?
Neeti Sharma, MD:
Even if you do your best to practice safe social distancing, there are many risks that come along with gathering. Each time you leave your home to travel somewhere, you put yourself at risk of exposure. On top of that, when you see loved ones, it’s unnatural to implement the physical distance needed to keep everyone safe. You might start out with the best intentions but with time, innocently lean in a bit too close—breaching the 6 foot safeguard and putting both you and your loved ones at risk.
Moreover, if your family members are older or have a serious underlying health condition, staying away from them at this time, in case you are one of the 25-50% of people that are estimated to be asymptomatic, is the most loving act you can demonstrate. The safest way to interact with family, friends, and partners that you don’t cohabitate with is solely virtually—there’s no loophole here!
Q: I live in a coronavirus epicenter but have been sheltering in place at a friend’s house out of the city. Can I go back to get things from my home?
Jaclyn Tolentino, DO:
That really depends on the exact circumstances of your household, and if you can get there safely. If you live alone and you want to pop over to your empty apartment to pick up clean clothes and an extra supply of medication or supplements, that’s probably going to be fine. Make sure you can get there safely; walking, biking, or driving your own car is ideal. If public transit is your only option, you may want to reconsider whether the trip is really necessary.
If you must go, I would recommend wearing a mask and equipping yourself with disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face and make sure to disinfect items like cell phones as soon as you are able to. To be extra cautious, leave your shoes outside at your friend’s house and change clothes once you’re safely back in your shelter-in-place location.
Now, if your home or your friend’s home has other people living in it, that may change things. You need to consider if you’re going to risk exposing individuals who may be at greater risk of developing COVID-19, such as parents, grandparents, or anyone with a weakened immune system. In those instances, it’s best to stay at your friend’s house until current guidelines have been lifted.
Q: There seems to be a lot of conflicting information regarding wearing masks, are they effective and should I be wearing one—what about my kids? Even when I’m outdoors?
Neeti Sharma, MD:
At this time, the CDC recommends that everyone wear masks in public settings—particularly when you’re in close proximity to others such as in a grocery store or pharmacy.
To follow these guidelines, you should not be purchasing surgical or N-95 masks that are needed by healthcare workers on the front lines. Instead, the CDC advises the use of simple cloth face coverings such as neck gaiters, bandanas, or a piece of cloth and elastic. Masks serve as an additional public health measure to slow the spread of the virus and help people who unknowingly may have the virus from transmitting it to others. It is not advised to place face coverings on children under the age of 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove the mask without assistance.
If you’re exercising outside you should consider sporting a mask then, too. Preliminary findings from a virtual simulation conducted by a Belgian-Dutch research team suggest that runners and cyclists should practice caution while passing others on the road, as respiratory droplets that could potentially transmit the novel coronavirus appear to spread further than the typical 6 feet buffer when individuals are in motion. If you tend not to pass people during your outdoor activities, you are likely safe to exercise without one—but we recommend using your discretion.
No matter where you are, don’t treat wearing a face mask as a substitute for social distancing, regular handwashing, and avoiding the sick—these are still the most important measures we can take to do our part in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Q: When will the coronavirus vaccine be ready or an effective antiviral medication be recommended—and how can I get them?
Christopher Coller, DO:
Right now, there are no approved medications or vaccinations for COVID-19. There are, however, a few different drugs that are being actively investigated including a number of antivirals, antiparasitics, and antibiotics. More well-known is the use of azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine in treating those with severe illness. However, studies on these drugs have only been performed in small sample sizes and additional research is needed before conclusions regarding widespread use outside of the hospital setting can be drawn.
Several institutions are actively working on a vaccine and there are hopes that human testing of an experimental vaccine will begin by September, allowing for potential emergency use authorization in early 2021. However, this may be overly optimistic as other vaccine developers believe it could be up to a year before something is approved for distribution.
Q: When will things start returning to normal? And will it really be safe?
Christopher Coller, DO:
These are the real hard hitting questions that remain impossible to answer. A big factor in this is when cases for COVID-19 will stop increasing and we start to see the other side of the apex. Currently, cases in New York, the country’s epicenter, appear to be plateauing. Projections are hopeful that this indicates a flattening of the curve and a decrease of new infections. However, there are ongoing concerns about social distancing guidelines being lifted too soon or not soon enough—leading to further complexity around the issue.
Ultimately even when guidelines are lifted, this doesn’t mean everything will “go back to normal” all at once. Instead, there will likely be a process put in place including limits on the number of people allowed to gather in offices, restaurants, and enclosed spaces. There is some thought that antibody testing might play a key role in guiding how we safely return to work—although plans on this process remain unclear.
Many people believe that our culture may develop a new sense of what “safe” and “normal” look like. Perhaps people will feel comfortable enough to be close to loved ones, but more cautious about handshakes or close proximity to strangers. It’s likely that some people will continue to wear masks in public and keep sanitizer gels on hand for months to come. Whatever it looks like, we can all be confident that we will once again enjoy attending birthday parties, cheering at sports events, and visiting grandparents. It might look a little different—but we will get there.
We hope this article was helpful in answering just some of the questions you have about COVID-19. Feel free to check out our other articles which may also be able to answer some of your additional concerns:
- How to Treat COVID-19 At Home by Dr. Darcy McConnell
- What Does COVID-19 Mean for Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Fertility? by Dr. Robin Berzin
- How Underlying Conditions Affect Your Immune System by Dr. Robin Berzin
- How to Cope with Anxiety and Loneliness During Coronavirus by Dr. Robin Berzin
- Everything You Need to Know About COVID-19 Antibody Testing by Dr. Kerri Masutto
- How to Maintain Some Sense of Normalcy Right Now—And Why It’s Important by Marnie Schwartz