Intermountain Healthcare

12 Questions (And Answers) About COVID-19 from Intermountain Healthcare


Salt Lake City, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 05/11/2020 --There's a lot of information out there about coronavirus (COVID-19) and not all of it is true. How do you know if what you're seeing online is fact or fiction? Most importantly, get your information from reputable sources like the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Utah Department of Health , and Intermountain Healthcare. Here are 12 recent questions and answers about COVID-19.

Question #1 - Is the public water supply is contaminated with COVID-19?

There's no evidence that the virus has spread through the water supply. In fact, the treatment in water facilities protects us from pathogens.

Question #2 - Should patients cancel any standing appointments with their healthcare provider in order to avoid hospitals and medical offices where patients infected with COVID-19 may be present?

It's very important to monitor your health as you normally would and follow up with your physician as scheduled. Many providers are now offering video visits to help sustain social distancing and keep patients and caregivers safe. Call your provider to find out if your appointment can be provided through a video visit. Not all conditions can be seen via video, but your provider can decide the best type of appointment for you.

Question #3 - If I feel sick and I'm worried I may have contracted COVID-19, should I visit an emergency room or InstaCare immediately?

If you're experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, find out if you should be tested by calling ahead. Calling ahead allows a medical professional to assess your symptoms over the phone and determine if you should be tested for COVID-19. You will likely be referred to testing if you have one of the COVID-19 symptoms (subject to testing capacity). Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:
- Fever
- Cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle aches and chills
- Decreased sense of smell or taste
- Sore throat

Severe symptoms: If you, your child, or someone you are with is experiencing difficulty breathing and extreme shortness of breath; new confusion or inability to waken/arouse; bluish lips or face; or any other symptoms of a medical emergency, call 911.

Question #4 - If I don't have symptoms of COVID-19 do I still need to wear a mask?

Edward Stenehjem, MD, an infectious diseases expert at Intermountain Healthcare, recommends wearing a mask when you must be in a public place where social distancing is difficult, like a grocery store. But, he cautions, don't assume a mask automatically means you're safe. "The homemade cloth masks are a benefit to the community, not the person wearing it," he said. "That's because those who don't have any symptoms might still have the virus, and these masks, when made and worn correctly, help prevent transmission."

Intermountain Healthcare feels masks are so important, they are leading an effort call ProjectProtect to make 5 million medical grade masks for frontline caregivers.

Question #5 - Can I contract COVID-19 from pets or animals?

While the World Health Organization acknowledges there are instances of animals and pets of COVID-19 patients becoming infected with the disease, further evidence is needed to understand if animals and pets can spread the disease. While animals can spread viruses between one another, they are genetically distinct from humans making it extremely hard for viruses to pass between pets and their owners. However, it's always a good idea wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets.

Question #6 - Will drinking and gargling warm water every 15 minutes kill or flush out COVID-19 virus from my system?

No. While staying hydrated is very important, these practices do not prevent COVID-19. The best infection prevention methods for COVID-19 include wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) at work, practicing social distancing, washing your hands, and having good hygiene.

Question #7 - I've heard that we can expect the spread of COVID-19 to slow as the weather warms, similar to what we see with the flu. However, it seems the virus is spreading now in areas like Singapore, where it is currently very warm. How long will this virus live at temperatures above 100°F?

Generally, coronaviruses survive for shorter periods at higher temperatures and higher humidity than in cooler or dryer environments. However, it's not yet known whether weather and temperature affect the spread of COVID-19. Some other viruses, like those that cause the common cold and flu, spread more during cold weather months but that doesn't mean it's impossible to become sick with these viruses during other months. There's much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.

Question #8 - I've heard that COVID-19 can last on surfaces from 48 hours to 17 days. How long can it actually survive on surfaces?

It's not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but according to the World Health Organization, the virus seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses in general may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. It also varies under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

Cleaning visibly dirty surfaces with simple disinfectants is a best practice measure to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses. After cleaning, wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

Question #9 - I thought COVID-19 was mainly respiratory issues, but now I'm hearing that there are GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms too. Is that true? Does this justify buying lots of toilet paper?

COVID-19 has a wide range of symptoms. Common symptoms include cough, fever, tiredness, and difficulty breathing in severe cases. Less common symptoms have included headache, sore throat, and rhinorrhea, anosmia (loss of smell), and gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. nausea and diarrhea). While experts in consumer behavior say a surge in panic buying is not a surprise during a global pandemic, it's not necessary to buy large amounts of products like toilet paper to combat COVID-19 symptoms.

Questions #10 - Ventilators are being used to treat COVID-19 patients. Is it true that ventilators are lifesaving in the short term, but can cause associated pneumonia or lung damage and more permanent harm in the long-term?

It's well known throughout the healthcare community that ventilator-associated lung injury is a risk—particularly with patients who are intubated with ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). That said, here are a few important things to remember:
1. In general terms, patients intubated in these settings would almost certainly die without the ventilator.
2. We have learned a great deal in recent years about how to reduce the risk of ventilator-associated lung injury. Employing those lessons has significantly reduced the risk.
3. Ventilator-associated pneumonia does occur, but the risk is very low with all the steps we currently employ.

So, while it's accurate to say there are risks when patients are intubated, particularly for long periods like COVID-19 patients, the benefit far exceeds the risk in patients, particularly those who don't have pre-existing lung conditions.

Question #11 - What is the risk of disease transmission from clothing exposed during work?

While there have been no documented cases of transmission of COVID-19 via clothing and shoes at this point, following proper personal protective equipment guidelines at work and cleaning and disinfecting clothes properly is essential for preventing disease transmission.

Question #12 - Most of the 'stay home' guidelines & directives seem to recommend not making travel plans soon. What about making travel plans for May/June? How do we know when it is safe for anyone, especially at-risk groups, to resume travel plans?

Right now, there isn't a date set as to when travel plans can be resumed with 100% certainty— only time will tell. Intermountain's Dr. Eddie Stenehjem also encourages people to stay home and to not make travel plans for the next few months in a recent Intermountain Healthcare Facebook Live.

About Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare is a not-for-profit system of 24 hospitals, 215 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,500 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes and sustainable costs. For more information, see Intermountain Healthcare or the Intermountain Healthcare Blog.