HAVE a question about COVID-19? Hunter New England Health's public health physician, Dr David Durrheim, has the answers.
If you want to know something else about COVID-19, please ask your questions via the form at the bottom of this story, and we will ask the experts.
1. Does Hunter New England Health regularly phone COVID-19 cases to make sure they are staying at home and isolating themselves? And is it enforced?
There is a whole of government response, and other parts of NSW Government are now doing that. They are doing random calls, and they are making sure people are at home. They may even do random drop-ins - obviously not into the house, but making sure that cases or close contacts are actually adhering to the isolation requirements.
2. Is it completely safe to buy take away coffees and food? What are the risks? And is my prepared food safe?
A lot of it depends on the type of food. If the food is prepared and hot and well cooked, and it is not handled a lot, then it should be safe. Obviously with the packaging it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water or hand gel before you touch the food. And similarly, if you have a takeaway cup of coffee, after you have touched the cup - use alcohol hand gel or wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly for a good 20-to-30 seconds, and there won't be any risks with that.
3. Is it safe to pay with cash, and use an ATM?
You don't know who else's hands have been on the cash or the ATM before you. So after touching any surfaces that may have been touched by other people's hands - or sneezes or coughs - it's a really good idea to wash your own hands, and certainly avoid touching your face, your eyes, your nose, your mouth before you have washed your hands.
4. If you get sick with something else, is it safe to go to a hospital or doctor's surgery?
This is probably the best time to go to a doctor's surgery or the hospital. Particularly hospitals.
The emergency departments are so tuned in to triaging for COVID symptoms, and they immediately isolate anybody that has actually got symptoms that are compatible with COVID-19. They will be isolated to a particular area, and people who don't have symptoms will be seen as they normally would be in an emergency department, or admitted if required.
There are really important safety measures in place in hospitals at the moment.
With GPs, we encourage anybody with a fever or respiratory illness to phone ahead. Doctors are now able to consult by tele-medicine, and they often direct a person straight to a laboratory for testing.
5. If you have to go to hospital, are COVID-19 cases kept well separated from other cases?
Yes. As above. We also admit COVID-19 patients, and if we do they are in isolation.
6. Who is most at risk?
There have been 18 deaths in Australia so far, and the median age is 79.5. The guidance that has been given to these wonderful older people in our community that we love and appreciate is that they really need to stay at home, and really only venture out if they are going to get a little bit of exercise. We should be caring for them. They really need to stay at home. Family members and friends, who are younger, should be making sure we do their shopping, drop it off, and that we don't place them at risk with this, because this virus is horrible in older people. And the death rates we have seen mirror that, with death rates around the world as high as 15 per cent in people over the age of 80.
7. Is hand sanitiser enough when soap and water isn't available?
Soap and water is preferable - but proper hand washing is the key. A dash under the tap is not good enough. It needs to be a lathering of soap on the hands, in all the grooves, and then a really good rinsing of the hands as well.
But if you don't have soap and water, then an alcohol-based hand gel is really not a bad alternative. But again, it needs to be thorough - it's a decent spray and 20 seconds of working it between all of the grooves of the hands and fingers. That is quite a reasonable alternative.
8. Should workers be isolated when travelling in work vehicles?
Absolutely. The current advice is one person in a four square metre area. Very few vehicles are that big, and very few are eight. So we'd be encouraging people to be driving alone, and some countries in the world now only allow a single person in a vehicle.
But we can understand where, for safety reasons - health staff such as paramedics for example - you need two people. But then they are screened at the onset of their shift that they have no symptoms of COVID-19.
As a general rule though, it is much better at this stage that there are single people in a vehicle unless it is for safety reasons.
And then of course, that doesn't apply to people in the household. The household - people who love under the same roof - are considered as one person. We understand those people are mixing anyway and sharing areas in their own homes.
9. How long do the COVID-19 droplets survive?
It depends on the surface. The good news is, because they are droplets, they fall a relatively short distance away - about a metre - from a person with a sneeze or a cough. Gravity does a wonderful job with droplets, rather than on aerosols.
In a normal situation, you find the droplets actually fall in a relatively restricted area. Depending on the surface they fall onto - if it's a plastic surface or a stainless steel surface, and it's relatively cool - they could survive for up to 72 hours.
But on hands, it is maybe a few hours. There is a range of times. That's why the cleaning of surfaces are so important. Things that are often touched - so doorknobs, hand rails, public transport rails, steering wheels, and things that other people touch, it is a really, really good idea to adequately sanitise and clean those before you touch them. And then after touching them again, making sure you wash your hands.
10. How long does the virus hang around in the air?
Because of gravity, it actually drops very quickly. The problem would be if you happened to be within that metre. If you keep a metre-and-a-half away that is really good advice. It doesn't hang around like aerosols. Things like measles virus remain in the air for at least half an hour after a person has coughed in that area. They remain airborne. With droplets, gravity does it's role. But if a person sneezes into their hand, it remains on their hands, and that is the key here to breaking this transmission chains is hand washing. And of course, standing back.
11. Is it worth wearing a mask, a makeshift mask and even gloves when you have to go out to get essentials like groceries? And should we be wiping down shopping trolleys?
Standing back and hand washing are really the two key things.
If a person has symptoms and they have to go into a public space - for example, they are going into a public space to seek testing, or medical care. Then covering up their nose and mouth is a good idea, and if they don't have a mask, then a makeshift mask is better than nothing.
But we are not encouraging people to be wearing masks at this stage in the general community. Much much more effective is lots of hand washing, and standing clear and not congregating. Those are the things that will keep us safe at this point.
We should be wiping down shopping trolleys. I have seen wonderful practices at local supermarkets that have had us standing two metres apart. There was an armed policeman standing there, and we went in in an orderly fashion. They got us to wash our hands and wipe down the trolley and then after we used the rapid pay, they wiped it down afterwards. That's what we want. We want to see that. If all of us play a role then we can really do something to interrupt this virus and win the war. What we don't want is gaps in the system, where individuals don't follow the rules.
12. Should we be changing our clothes and showering after we have been out to get essentials?
Probably not. For people working in clinical services we would strongly recommend that. But if you're standing back, the chance of you getting contaminated by droplets? It's not going to happen.
13. Should we be cleaning our fruit and vegetables and non-perishables before we bring them inside and eat them?
With non-perishables, you can very effectively and hygienically remove things from tins and so on without touching the food, and then wash your hands effectively. Once you have it out of the container, get rid of the container.
A lot of people have used a very, very mild bleach solution in the past for preparing fruit and vegetables. I prefer to say, wash your hands really well, and then peel them. The old food hygiene rules apply which is if you can't boil it, peel it, cook it, wash it, then leave it.
14. I am pregnant, can this virus affect my baby? Can my baby get COVID-19? Can I still breastfeed if I get it?
This video should answer most of your questions.
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