Coronavirus: Extensive Q&A with our Chief Science Educator, Alex Ruani


by The Health Sciences Academy — Get free science updates here.


A quick note before we begin:

Please keep in mind that we’re striving to provide the most up-to-date information available. New policies and procedures may have been put in place and are subject to change. Please – ALWAYS – check with your local authorities to find out what you can and should be doing during this time. And stay safe!

Now…

Your (and your clients’) burning questions, answered by our Chief Science Educator, Alex Ruani!

Alex is being interviewed daily by the press to provide the latest research updates as we continue to learn more about COVID-19.

Here are the most up-to-date answers to your burning questions – including food takeouts, home shopping, and pharmacy visits!

As you’ve heard us say before:

Be prepared, not scared.

And please share!

Should I be avoiding activities where I am close to others? e.g. going to get a haircut, going to the dentist, going to a beauty salon, even if they are taking social distancing measures?

Unless absolutely necessary, like getting a decayed tooth extracted, avoid social activities as much as possible – this includes beauty treatments or getting a haircut.

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is more infectious than the common flu. Recent research shows that coronavirus can spread 2 or 3 times faster than the influenza virus. That is, for each infected person we can expect another 2 or 3 people to get infected, too.

What’s more, there’s no vaccine approved, and the fatality rate is much higher than the common flu.

How often should I be shopping for food, and what steps should I take to distance myself from other people at the supermarket?

Contagion rates are scaling up.

Begin intensive social distancing immediately. As much as possible, limit contact with people outside your household.

Unless you’re unable to get the food you need online, or if the home delivery is cancelled or missing essential items, only then consider going to a supermarket.

With ‘click and collect’ slots also scarce, this means you’ll need to get into the supermarket and be extra cautious.

If anyone is coughing or sneezing, especially in a closed environment like a supermarket, maintain a distance of at least 1 metre (2 steps) to avoid breathing in any respiratory droplets containing the novel coronavirus.

If you breathe in these contaminated droplets, or if you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after being in contact with objects or surfaces where these droplets landed, you are at risk of catching COVID-19.

As of today, the longest we have seen the contaminated droplets to be suspended in the air is about 3 hours.

This means we are more likely to inhale these contaminated droplets in a closed environment where someone infected coughed or sneezed, even if they did so before we walked in!

Also:

Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water after bringing in packages, or after trips to the grocery store or other places where they may have come into contact with infected surfaces.

Can I travel to help relatives, especially the elderly?

For example, if a person has an elderly relative who is alone and without anyone to help them, can they travel to help the relative if said person is not showing any symptoms?

Even if you’re young or have a strong immunity, you can still be incubating the virus symptom-free and transmitting it to others who don’t have a strong immunity or are currently fighting another infection.

You don’t want to be putting their lives at risk.

So, if you aren’t showing symptoms and travelling to help relatives, monitor your own hygiene behaviours strictly.

Solidarity and caring for our loved ones and elders is essential in these critical times.

But if you feel unwell, stay home.

The novel coronavirus is most likely to spread within the first 3 days of having symptoms.

In the event someone develops a fever (however mild) or a new, persistent cough, they should be isolated into a separate room, and have their own designated bathroom if possible.

Anyone coming in to tend to someone who is unwell should wear a mask and wash their hands immediately afterwards. This is to protect themselves from getting infected.

If a test confirms that a person is infected, the WHO advises that anyone who’s had close contact with the infected person within 2 days of the infected person showing symptoms, should also be tested if they begin showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Can I take my children to the park or playground if there are other people there?

Minimise your chances of getting infected or infecting others.

Many countries are already restricting going to parks or engaging in outdoor activities.

Playgrounds are one of the riskiest places to go to outdoors.

The virus lives longer on metal, plastic, and non-porous surfaces. Based on the most recent research, the range we are seeing is from a few hours to a day or 2, and sometimes 3 days if we have the perfect temperature, humidity, and surface conditions.

Also, public playground structures aren’t cleaned regularly and can spread the virus.

If not, how can I entertain the kids in the house?

Dusting off those unused board games, bringing back family reading time, painting and drawing, and even getting creative with indoor games like treasure hunts or ‘hide and seek’ can give children the physical and mental stimulation that they need.

What if I need prescriptions when I am self-isolating?

While repeat prescription medication can be arranged online through the NHS, collection at a pharmacy can be risky.

Observe the same strict social distancing measures you would inside a supermarket, if not stricter:

  • Avoid close contact with people who look unwell
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth – keep your hands below your shoulder level
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your face with a tissue or sleeve (not your hands!), then bin the tissue

More importantly, have someone else collect the prescription for you if you are unwell.

If you don’t have anyone to do this for you, and you’ve been coughing or sneezing as of recent, wear a face mask to protect others from getting infected. If you don’t have a face mask, use a scarf or shawl around your face.

Can I go out with other members of my household if we aren’t showing symptoms, for example to the beach to walk the dogs?

Non-essential group activities aren’t advisable, and in some countries even banned.

Ideally, have one member of the family to walk the dog and practise social distancing – that is, maintain a distance of at least 2 metres (about 3 or 4 steps) between you and non-family members when you are outside.

What if I have symptoms that aren’t the “official” ones, like a sore throat. I’m an NHS worker and I am staying off with a sore throat – should I isolate for 7 days?

Although the most common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, and tiredness, some may also experience a sore throat, nasal congestion, or diarrhoea.

Frontline NHS workers attending coronavirus patients will need to get tested immediately if they display any symptoms, however mild.

Even passing onto others the common cold or any other type of seasonal infection like the flu is considered a risk, as it puts an additional burden on the immune system and makes it more vulnerable to other infections. So, self-isolation may even be recommended in some instances.

The NHS continues to update their procedures, so it’s key to keep up to date if you’re an NHS worker.

Is it safe to buy takeaway or drive-thru food? Can prepared food be infected?

My advice is to prepare your own food rather than going to a drive-thru restaurant or even buying takeaway food.

The food can be contaminated with droplets containing the COVID-19 virus, even if unintentionally sprayed by an infected staff member who isn’t yet showing symptoms.

What are the safest ways to socialise now? Can I have friends over?

Having friends or relatives over for meals or visits, playdates, parties, and sleepovers are some of the things to avoid.

Any non-essential activity that involves close contact with non-family members isn’t advisable.

The World Health Organization has been promoting ‘digital socialisation’, more recently with the #TogetherAtHome hashtag and a concert livestreaming.

How serious should my symptoms be before I stop going to see elderly relatives?

Even if mild, avoid exposing them to infection.

But if there’s no choice, such as a grandparent running out of food, supplies or medicine, avoid contact with them as much as possible by leaving the items outside, minimising your contact with these items, and by wearing a face mask and gloves so you don’t infect them.

Should children be kept inside now whether or not they are showing symptoms?

Not everyone has a back garden where children can play.

While this may not feel practical, in order to make social distancing truly effective, it’s best to avoid taking your children to crowded public spaces, like popular parks or beaches.

If you do take them outside for a walk or a bike ride, set strict ground rules, including maintaining physical distance from non-family members and no touching the surfaces of public spaces.

If you don’t think your children will realistically follow these rules, then it’s best to avoid outdoor activities.

What food should I be buying to help boost my immune system?

It’s a myth that someone with a strong immune system won’t get infected.

Supporting our immune system with good nutrition doesn’t make us ‘immune’ – only a vaccine can help with this and there won’t be one for at least another year and a half.

However, by strengthening our immunity, we can indeed reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

Our immune system requires plenty of essential micronutrients like vitamins C, D and A, and minerals like zinc and iron. Upping our intake of fresh produce like fruits, vegetables, herbs, pulses, grains like rice, and seeds is helpful and still somewhat possible in the current state of our supply chain in the UK.

Fresh foods with relatively longer shelf life include root vegetables – potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, and onions.

But with the mass ‘junk food stockpiling we’ve seen in the past weeks, I am concerned that people now bored indoors may be non-consciously eating more than needed.

If our diet is poor before catching the virus, we may suffer from more severe symptoms or for a longer period of time.

Supplements can help in instances of nutrient deficiencies or to help mitigate these.

While taking a vitamin C supplement won’t stop a virus from entering and infecting your body, research has shown that it may indeed help reduce the severity of symptoms and the length of an infection.

For more information on essential nutrition, click here to take our FREE online course!

And please, above all else, stay safe, stay smart, and be prepared, NOT scared!


Alex Ruani

Chief Science Educator at The Health Sciences Academy and Doctoral Researcher on Nutrition Science Education at University College London