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We know you have a lot of questions about the novel coronavirus, so here’s another round of Q&A.
This week, readers asked about the statewide stay-at-home order that took effect at 6 a.m. Thursday in Colorado. Some asked about social distancing in grocery stores. Others wanted to know about COVID-19 symptoms, duration of the illness and whether warmer temperatures will kill the virus.
Readers can submit questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Coronavirus question” in the subject line.
Here are this week’s questions and answers:
Can you contract the virus more than once?The short answer is health officials don’t yet know if having the virus provides a long- or short-term immunity to future infections. But based on the available evidence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is more likely that once an individual has had COVID-19 once, he or she will not contract it again.
It has been suggested that warm weather may slow the virus. If so, should I turn up the heat to help kill it in my house?The suggestion warm weather will slow the spread of the virus is based on public health experts’ understanding of what happens with the common cold and flu, which spreads more during cold-weather months. But, according to the CDC, “It is not yet known whether weather and temperature impact the spread of COVID-19.” The CDC also said while coronaviruses typically survive for shorter periods of time at higher temperatures and higher humidity, there is no direct data on this for COVID-19.
It is highly unlikely turning up the heat in your house will kill the virus on surfaces and in the air. Best practices, according to CDC, are to regularly wash your hands, practice social distancing and remain home if you become sick.
What’s the risk level of coronavirus being spread by take-out food?The risk of contracting COVID-19 from take-out food is very low, according to a CDC information sheet.
The CDC, along with other federal agencies, “are not aware of any reports at this time that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging,” according to the CDC resource.
To further minimize risk, customers should wash their hands after handling packaging.
If you eat food contaminated with the new coronavirus, your stomach acid should inactivate the virus. Even if it didn’t, there is no evidence the virus could infect you through your gastrointestinal tract.
Overall, take-out and drive-thru food options are good ways to maintain social distancing, the CDC resource said.
Is there any risk in receiving shipping orders from China? “There is likely a very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures,” the CDC website said.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted by imported goods. There have not been any cases of the illness associated with imported goods in the United States, the CDC said.
In general, coronaviruses have a poor survivability on surfaces and spread mostly through respiratory droplets. Still, there is a lot unknown about the new virus. Researchers are mainly looking to other coronaviruses that are similar, like SARS, to try to predict its behavior.
Could La Plata County do blood tests for COVID-19 like Telluride plans to do, and could we process tests locally so we get results faster? If not, why?Sure. With enough providers, resources and testing kits, Durango could duplicate the efforts being done in San Miguel County, said Grace Franklin, public health director in San Miguel County.
The founders of United Biomedical Inc., Mei Mei Hu and Lou Reese, a couple who live part time in Telluride, are providing two rounds of blood testing using a new test developed by their own company, which is a subsidiary of United Biomedical Inc. Every resident in San Miguel County is being tested.
Franklin said of Hu and Reese: “They have been extremely generous with providing their test to the entire San Miguel County. That is over 8,000 people and requires two tests – Day 1 and Day 14.”
The tests are not the end of the costs. Staffing, supplies, medical equipment and other associated costs must be paid for.
The ability for Durango or La Plata County to replicate the testing is dependent on a lot of factors. Franklin said: “What is the number of health care providers that could drop everything and work on a testing site for days at a time? What are the county and private resources to fund this kind of endeavor? Are there other testing options that could provide a similar understanding of disease burden? What is the public trust in government and the health care system? What current orders or additional protections are in place to protect the public? What resources does the town/county have to understand the data obtained from this type of mass testing?
“These are some of the questions that we posed when deciding to move forward with the test for the entire county of San Miguel (not just Telluride). Every county, town and region is unique and one type of approach is not always appropriate or realistic in different regions.”
What is the prodrome, the early symptoms, of the virus? What is the average duration of the virus? According to the CDC, the early symptoms of COVID-19 infection are fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure. That is why CDC calls for a 14-day self-isolation for people who suspect they have been in contact with someone who is infected.
Claire Ninde, spokesperson with San Juan Basin Public Health, said although people can pass the virus when they are not showing symptoms, they are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic, when they are sickest. But it is now thought that the main spread of the virus comes from people who are carriers but not exhibiting symptoms.
Since it is impossible to “socially distance” in grocery stores, are any of them considering limiting the number of customers at any given time?A spokeswoman for City Market said staff members are monitoring the flow of traffic and may limit the number of customers entering the store at any given time, and they are implementing additional social-distancing measures.
At Nature’s Oasis, general manager Josh Hiers said customers are not being told to wait outside, but they are encouraged to social distance and wear gloves. The store isn’t as busy as the initial outbreak, he said, and crews clean regularly.
Calls to Albertsons and Natural Grocers were not returned.
What is the recovery time for somebody who contracts the virus?According to Harvard Health Publishing, people with mild cases appear to recover within one to two weeks, though for people with more severe cases, it can take up to six weeks or more.
There are still unknowns with the coronavirus, and health officials have yet to pin down when exactly it is safe for people to return to public after recovery, or whether its possible to get the virus again after being sick.
What does a stay-at-home order mean?Basically, the order requires people to stay at home unless they absolutely must leave. It is mandatory, and it includes the entire state.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued the order Thursday and it is set to continue until April 11, with the option to extend. The goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Colorado while limiting the deepening economic impacts of the response measures to the epidemic.
The order requires people to stay at home, but that does not mean they can’t leave to complete necessary tasks or work in a “critical” job. The order includes about 100 exemptions for critical businesses, services and activities.
What is still open after the order?While many services have closed in recent weeks, the order includes many exemptions to make sure necessary services keep functioning.
These “critical” exemptions include: specific health care operations, infrastructure, manufacturing, construction, defense, retail, services, news media, financial institutions, public sanitation and safety, government functions and providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations.
The order does not close law enforcement, health care operations and pharmacies, grocery stores, utilities, trash, recycling or other basic needs.
The order keeps key businesses open, in part, to limit the order’s economic impact.
Some of those businesses include: gas stations, licensed child care, plumbing or car repair, laundromats, funeral homes, financial institutions, food banks and shelters. Don’t worry, your favorite liquor, marijuana and firearms stores will remain open, too.
Some services can stay open with restrictions. For example, houses of worship can stay open only with social distancing requirements or by using electronic platforms. School districts will still offer free food services for students on a pick-up, take-home basis. Public transportation is open for essential travel only.
The stay-at-home requirements are available on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment website.
Under what circumstances can I leave my house?You can leave to complete necessary activities, like:
Shopping for groceries or household necessities.Delivering supplies to others, such as food, pet supplies or household products.Outdoor activities, such as walking, hiking, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, biking or running while maintaining social distance.Caring for a family member, vulnerable person or pet in another household.Caring for livestock kept at a location other than a person’s home.Seeking medical care.While people can still get out to exercise or walk a pet, the order did close playgrounds and picnic areas. State parks will remain open, and so will local parks and outdoor spaces. The Durango skate park is closed.
When people leave for an essential task, they should continue practicing social distancing by staying at least 6 feet from others, washing hands and covering coughs.
People experiencing symptoms of coronavirus must self-isolate until their symptoms cease or they have a negative test result.
What if someone breaks the order’s restrictions?It is an executive order, which means it is Colorado law. Anyone who violates the order could receive a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.
The order encourages local authorities to determine the best course of action for enforcement.
San Juan Basin Public Health enforcement actions, which involve two counties, four municipalities and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, will start with education and trying to gain voluntary compliance. Violators will be handed a warning to make them aware of further potential consequences, Ninde said.
State health officials have the authority to enforce the stay-at-home order if local officials refused to do so.
Residents who suspect someone is violating the order should first contact their local public health agency to report concerns. Residents may also file a report with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office by emailing email@example.com if local law enforcement or a local public health agency is unresponsive.
Herald Staff Writers Shannon Mullane, Liz Weber, Patrick Armijo and Jonathan Romeo contributed to this report.