Dr David Durrheim, public health physician for Hunter New England Health, answers frequently asked questions about COVID-19 from Newcastle Herald readers.
Can I still take my teenage daughter driving so she can keep building up her hours for her L's?
If you and your daughter live in the same household, this would generally be acceptable but it should be checked with police as different states appear to apply different rules. I would definitely reconsider this if she had a fever, cough, sore throat or other respiratory symptoms. In that case I'd drive her directly to your nearest screening clinic or the GP.
Are you allowed to carpool to work with more than two people not of the same household?
There are very few cars that would allow you to maintain the physical distancing required - 8 square metres. We encourage everybody who can work from home to do so. If you must travel to work, travel alone.
Can boyfriends/girlfriends still go to each other's houses?
The current restrictions do allow one person to visit another household, but appropriate physical distancing should still be practiced. That means no hugs, and no kisses.
How long is the pandemic going to last?
Wouldn't we love it if we could be sure that the pandemic will be over in three months? But this is unlikely to be the case. Ideally, we need a safe vaccine that provides robust protection as soon as possible. Right now, our best option is to keep up the current isolation and physical distancing as long as required. Relaxing the restrictions too early may allow the virus to seize the advantage and might mean we'll need to battle the virus for a longer period.
How is COVID-19 treated in severe cases?
About 80 percent of people suffer a mild, self-resolving illness and can be treated at home, using something for symptoms, such as paracetamol and fluids. There is unfortunately no specific antiviral treatment yet approved for treating severe COVID-19 disease. People with severe illness may need hospitalisation and may even require ICU treatment including oxygen and potentially ventilation.
Can there be false negatives on the COVID-19 tests?
No laboratory test is 100 percent accurate for any infectious disease. If a test comes back negative, but we remain concerned that the person may have COVID-19, the test is repeated using a different test targeting a different part of the virus.
Is there a test to see if you have already had it?
Laboratories are in the early stages of developing tests that measures immune responses (antibodies) to the COVID-19 virus. We are hoping that this might be more generally available in the future.
Can the virus be transmitted via insects/mosquitoes?
There is no evidence that any insect can spread COVID-19, including mosquitoes.
Can grandparents still care for grandchildren?
Where children are no longer attending school or childcare, some grandparents are stepping in as home tutors or day-carers. From a health standpoint, because grandparents may be more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection, it's critical that these families are meticulous in their community distancing and in their hand hygiene.
Should healthcare workers wear a mask when screening the public entering the hospital?
Yes, we want to keep everyone attending hospitals safe - that includes patients and our health staff. We've strengthened screening at our EDs to make sure that anyone who may have COVID symptoms is screened, and that our frontline health staff - who are so important in this battle - are not placed at risk.
Is it completely safe to buy take away coffees and food?
If the food is prepared and hot and well cooked, and it is not handled a lot, then it should be safe. 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. Similarly, if you have a takeaway 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.
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.
If you get sick with something else, is it safe to go to a hospital or doctor's surgery?
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. With GPs, we encourage anybody with a fever or respiratory illness to phone ahead.
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 it needs to be thorough.
Is it safe to ride motorbikes, ride with other people on other bikes, or with a pillion on the back?
In terms of COVID-19, yes, it's safe to continue riding your motorbike, as long as it's essential travel and you're not out socialising with friends or other people from outside your household. Same goes for pillion passengers - we really shouldn't be riding with anyone who isn't from our immediate household that close and personal. That will ensure you are protecting yourself and others, as well as adhering to the current law.
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. That doesn't apply to people in the household. People who live under the same roof are considered as one person. We understand those people are sharing areas in their own homes.
How long do the COVID-19 droplets survive?
Because they are droplets, they fall a relatively short distance away - about a metre - from a person with a sneeze or a cough. 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 - doorknobs, hand rails, public transport rails, steering wheels, and things that other people touch.
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. But if a person sneezes into their hand, it remains on their hands, and the key to breaking these transmission chains is hand washing. And of course, standing back.
Is it worth wearing a mask and gloves when you have to go out to get essentials? A
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, then covering up their nose and mouth is a good idea. But we are not encouraging people to be wearing masks at this stage. Much more effective is lots of hand washing, and standing clear and not congregating. Those are the things that will keep us safe.
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.
Should we be cleaning our groceries before we bring them inside?
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.
- Hunter health authority warns of Ross River, Barmah Forest virus risk
- How coronavirus kills: Q&A with infectious diseases expert Josh Davis
- Closed beaches and empty streets: Pictures of Newcastle and the Hunter amid COVID-19
- The coronavirus crisis in Newcastle and the Hunter
- Jarryd Hayne's sexual assault trial vacated due to COVID-19, to face trial in November
- Here are the acceptable 'excuses' for leaving your home this Easter
- Light rail still suspended due to concerns about CBD Hotel
Our COVID-19 news articles relating to public health and safety are free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.