You likely know the basics of keeping yourself and others safe: Keep at least six feet from other people, avoid crowds, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly and limit nonessential trips. And when around others in public, wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth.
As Avi Selk wrote in The Post’s Coronavirus Updates newsletter: “Virtually anyone can have the virus at any time. You might feel very ill, or mildly under the weather, or perfectly fine and still pass it on to your loved ones. Act accordingly, and be safe.”
Here’s the latest of what The Post knows about common questions as businesses and states reopen.
Is it safe for me to go outside?
For most people, absolutely, experts say. The outdoors may preserve your sanity — and save social distancing.
Experts say that if you maintain a six-foot distance from other people, you should be even safer outside than in a closed area.
When outdoors, “you don’t have to stay six feet away from your spouse or child,” said Maria Raven, chief of emergency medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. “But if you are meeting a friend for a hike or going to the grocery store, keep your distance.”
Dog walking is a good activity — as long as you don’t let your pet get too close to other dogs or other people. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no indication pets play a significant role in transmitting the virus, it recommends you treat them like family members, keeping them away from animals and people not in your household. The Agriculture Department has confirmed the country’s first canine case of the virus in a German shepherd in New York, as well as a few cases in cats.
If I’m older, do I have to stay inside all the time?
It’s hard to generalize, because “some 70-year-olds run marathons, so you can’t make a blanket statement about people’s risks,” said Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and diabetes raise people’s risks of becoming severely ill or dying of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Patients with such conditions die at 12 times the rate of those with none, according to a recent CDC report. And even healthy seniors, Marrazzo said, “don’t get a complete pass” on increased risk. The bottom line: All seniors should take extra care.
If you are a senior citizen or someone who is chronically ill or has a suppressed immune system, see if you can get prescriptions and groceries delivered, or send a younger relative to pick them up.
What about masks? Should I wear one?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing face coverings in public to slow spread of the coronavirus.
That guidance reversed earlier recommendations following evidence that infected people without symptoms can spread the virus. Experts and health officials stress a “collective responsibility”: your cloth mask may help protect others — not necessarily yourself. That means you are most protected when others around you wear them.
Masks don’t remove the need for hand washing, social distancing or other measures, the CDC says. But the agency does recommend masks for “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
The science is still emerging. But a round of recent research, including one review of 172 observational studies, supports wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus. Officials in Springfield, Mo., now credit face coverings with preventing an outbreak among at least 140 people exposed to two masked, infected hair stylists.
That evidence has convinced Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and global health at Emory University. “We can stop transmission today,” he said, referring to research on population-based masking when combined with other public-health measures. “We don’t need to wait until we have a vaccine."
Health officials made clear that the public should avoid using the kind of gear — N95 respirators or surgical masks — that is in short supply and desperately needed by health workers.
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What do I do if my significant other gets sick?
It depends. If you have been with the person day and night for several days, you may already be exposed. Still, you can’t know for sure, and doctors say it’s wise to err on the side of caution and distance yourself as much as possible.
Most cases of covid-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, and a spouse probably will be able to take care of himself or herself. If possible, the ill spouse should move into an extra bedroom, use a different bathroom and wear a mask to protect others in the household.
If you are living with someone who needs help, you should wear a mask and gloves while providing care. If you are removing a dinner plate, for example, grab it with a dishrag or wear gloves, doctors say.
Even at a distance, however, it’s important to monitor a person with covid-19. Doctors are finding that covid-19 can appear with blood clots, strokes and other serious conditions that require immediate medical care.
What are the symptoms of covid-19?
Months into the crisis, we now know the disease has a far wider range of symptoms than initially thought. In addition to fever, coughing, shortness of breath and other flu-like symptoms, doctors are seeing gastrointestinal problems — nausea and vomiting, for example — chest pain and a loss of taste or smell.
In rare cases, children and young adults are falling ill with a Kawasaki-like inflammatory illness that doctors call MIS-C. Some doctors report brain inflammation and pinkeye in patients. It’s not clear, physicians say, whether some of the varied symptoms are caused by covid-19 or just occurring at the same time.
The CDC has added several new symptoms to its list for covid-19, including chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste and smell. The symptoms could appear two to 14 days after infection.
What do I do if I think I’m infected?
Consult your primary care doctor, if you have one. Don’t go to the physician’s office or the emergency room without calling ahead. The coronavirus is highly contagious, and doctors want to protect themselves and other patients from infection. You’ll probably be advised to self-quarantine and, because there is no effective treatment for the disease, take over-the-counter pain medicines such as Tylenol.
If symptoms worsen, and you have trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion or have underlying medical conditions, seek immediate medical care.
What if I have other health issues or emergencies?
Norman “Ned” Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, has warned that delayed screenings and treatments could lead to an estimated 10,000 excess deaths from breast and colorectal cancer over the next decade. He urged doctors to make patients comfortable with coming in for screenings and treatment.
As with other appointments, talk with your doctor’s office about their procedures, and the possibility of a telemedicine visit, before showing up in person. When you visit, wear a mask, keep yourself apart from other people and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer between points of contact.
If you think you are having a health emergency, call 911. Medical groups urged patients to do so after hospitals saw fewer patients coming in with heart attacks and other emergencies earlier this year.
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Will I be tested for the virus?
It depends on where you live and even what hospital or health system you use. After a sluggish start, diagnostic testing is ramping up in many parts of the country, helped by the entry of commercial labs and the approval of rapid tests by the Food and Drug Administration.
Home testing, an early point of interest, is rarer. Since April, the FDA has given emergency authorization for a few tests that allow patients to collect saliva or nasal samples at home and send them off for diagnosis.
Some localities, including in the DMV, say they’re approaching the testing and tracing capability that experts say is critical to resuming parts of public life. And they’re encouraging people turned away by earlier testing issues to seek tests, in some places even if they don’t have symptoms. The CDC recommends checking with your doctor, or with your state or local health department for guidelines, wait times and availability.
What about antibody tests?
Antibody or serology tests are designed to detect whether you have been exposed to the virus and have antibodies that may help show whether you have immunity to the illness. They are not designed to detect active infections.
Dozens of antibody tests are on the market, but the FDA has given emergency authorization to only a few. The agency has tightened its initial hands-off approach, removing several dozen test makers from its list of authorized distributors.
Even authorized tests have come in for scrutiny. Some government and business officials tout them as a way to reopen the economy by identifying people who can safely return to work. But many scientists, as well as the World Health Organization, say evidence is lacking that even high-quality antibody tests can prove someone who was infected has immunity from the novel coronavirus and is not at risk of being reinfected.
For now, experts say the tests are more useful as part of research than individual decision-making. “There’s no reason to get an antibody test other than curiosity,” del Rio said.
Should I go shopping? To the dentist? To church?
Any enclosed space with other people will carry some risk. The standard guidelines for lowering that risk help keep yourself and others safe: The common use of masks indoors, social distancing and hand-washing.
The CDC released more detailed guidance for different activities as states eased restrictions. Some of the agency’s guidelines for reopening have come with delays and extended disputes from the White House.
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What about going back to work?
The CDC has released stricter guidelines for office work, including recommendations for cloth face coverings everywhere, physical barriers and distancing and cutting back on communal items. Companies vary in how they’re handling reopening — one executive told The Post the guidelines were “kind of just a nice way of saying you can’t go back to the office.”
Some federal and state policies may change your workplace rights during the pandemic, and whether you may return or stay home.
When will this end?
No one knows. Experts say the social distancing practiced by many Americans has prevented the pandemic from being worse. But the country hit a new single-day high for cases in June, after many states eased restrictions and showed new highs in cases or hospitalizations.
In June, Anthony S. Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease expert, told the British Telegraph newspaper that it could be about a year before life in the U.S. returns to “some degree of real normality.”
Public health officials have warned state leaders to proceed carefully and to be prepared to reinstate tough regulations if the number of virus cases surges. Experts say any successful reopening strategy must be accompanied by additional testing and contact tracing to quickly find and isolate people who contract the virus.
Chances are good we will have to maintain some measures — isolating the infected, wearing face coverings, regular hand-washing, some degree of social distancing — until viable treatments and vaccines are developed, which could take months or years.
Laurie McGinley, Joel Achenbach, Ariana Eunjung Cha, Josh Dawsey, Juliet Eilperin, Angela Fritz, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Chris Mooney, Christopher Rowland, Lena H. Sun and William Wan contributed to this report.