This is part of a series of articles featuring responses by Elon University faculty members to questions about the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) submitted by Alamance County community members.
Editor’s note: The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has created disruptions in daily life for many people. Schools, restaurants and many organizations have closed or changed the way they do business in recent days, leaving community members concerned and unsure of what to expect. This is one in a series of columns by Elon University faculty and health care experts from the local community to address common questions and provide scientific information about the epidemic. Most are not trained medical providers, so readers should talk to their doctors if they have questions about their health.
Do I need to wear a medical mask? Would it help me to avoid getting sick?
Healthy people do not need to wear masks. COVID-19 spreads through airborne droplets and through direct contact. Social distancing will help you avoid contact with the COVID-19 virus.
People who are ill and are coughing or sneezing can wear masks to help prevent the spread of infection. If you are caring for someone who is sick or may have COVID-19, a mask can help protect you. If you need to use masks for one of these reasons, learn how to use one properly.
The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting global supply chains, so replacing medical supplies could get very difficult in the next several months. Use masks only if you need them to save supplies for medical providers and those with the greatest need. I encourage creative readers to develop realistic ideas for how to manufacture critical medical supplies locally. Your community needs you.
Does the virus spread through the air — like can it float in the air?
According to medical researchers at UNC, there is no evidence of airborne transmission for COVID-19. When infected individuals cough or sneeze, viruses get emitted within small liquid droplets. These droplets do not remain in the air, however, but instead fall to the ground and other surfaces.
Is a lunch meeting of four seniors at one’s home considered a bad idea? We have in the past met at restaurants but decided to do this instead. Two of the four have been socially isolated for more than two weeks. One of the four lives with family with two teens, and one has been in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities due to her husband’s surgeries over the previous couple of months.
Before answering this question, two facts are important to point out. One is that similar to flu transmission, COVID-19 viruses are likely shed by infected individuals for several days before the onset of any COVID-19 symptoms. Secondly, COVID-19 presents higher risks for seniors. The data from Wuhan, China, show just over one in a hundred infected people in their 50s will die, but nearly fifteen out of a hundred infected people in their 80s will die. Therefore, seniors should be particularly careful about meeting with others over the next few weeks and months. The more we socially distance ourselves, the sooner we can return to normal existence.
If you meet others outside of your home, avoid direct contact and maintain six feet distance to prevent you from most exposure to COVID-19. You should also be careful to wash your hands well after touching any objects others might have touched, such as doorknobs or phones.
Dave Gammon is a professor of biology at Elon University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To submit a question to our team of scientists, visit tinyurl.com/eloncovid19, email us at email@example.com, or use social media with hashtag #eloncovid19. Answers will be published as available in the Times-News, at www.thetimesnews.com, and on Today at Elon.