New Delhi: The global outbreak of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus that started in December last year has put almost all countries in lockdown and infected more than 54 lakh people across the globe, as on May 25, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). As governments in many states start easing the COVID-19 lockdown in a phased manner, people are worried about keeping themselves and their loved ones safe as they get oriented to the new normal and start resuming routine activities in times of COVID-19. NDTV spoke with Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics in order to seek answers to public queries on dos and don’ts of managing day-to-day life in times of a pandemic.
Question: When a person comes in from a public place like a market or an office or public transport, are their clothes and shoes a source of infection?
Devi Sridhar: Yes, the virus does last on clothes and shoes. The advice is to leave your shoes outside as the virus will die within minutes in the Ultra Violet Light and heat of the Sun. When you are inside, quickly change your clothes and wash them.
Question: Can one use the door handles in public places?
Devi Sridhar: One of the ways coronavirus spreads is when someone who has the virus touches the surface of the doorknob, the next person who touches it could get the virus on their hands and given how much we use our hands to touch our faces, one can get infected with the virus. The best thing is to wear gloves or to carry disinfectants or a piece of disposable clothing to open doors in public places.
Question: How to handle the shopping bags? Do these need to be washed? Do the packets, fruits and vegetables inside shopping bags need to be washed?
Devi Sridhar: Anything that you want from the shopping bag should be wiped using soap water. It the items are inside packets, take the items out, put in a container and throw the packets away.
Question: If someone has been near an infected person, what should they do?
Devi Sridhar: The first thing is that you must isolate yourself, as much as you can, from family members, especially elderly family members. Observe if you develop symptoms over the next few days. It’s not guaranteed that you would get the virus for sure by being around someone who is infected. It depends on how long you are around them and close enough that the droplets could have been spread from them to you. It is better to be cautious.
Question: How long should one be in isolation?
Devi Sridhar: The WHO advises 14 days of isolation because there are people who are asymptomatic- those who can hold the virus, not display any symptoms and pass it on to others.
Question: Should people sanitise their cell phones?
Devi Sridhar: Yes. The virus seems to survive on mobile phone surfaces. So when you get back home from public places, just give it a quick wipe using sanitiser or soap water. You should scrub, sanitise your phone, once or twice a day.
Question: How to protect eyes from catching the virus?
Devi Sridhar: If one is wearing a face mask, they are actually protecting others more than themselves by stopping their droplets from spreading. If others around them are not wearing masks, they can catch the virus through eyes as well. Therefore, everyone needs to put on a mask. To protect the eyes, one can wear glasses or sunglasses.
Question: Is it ok to be in an air-conditioned public places?
Devi Sridhar: There is no good answer to this question because we don’t know yet if the virus can spread through only short length droplets or can spread further with aerosols. What we have learnt from Diamond Princess cruise ship experience is that it does seem to spread through ventilation systems.
Question: After having recovered from COVID-19 infection, will I get immunity?
Devi Sridhar: The first few studies are coming out with findings under which the experiments were done on monkeys. They have shown that 35 days after clearing of the virus, these monkeys were exposed to the virus again and did not re-infected and seem to have some immunity protection. So it is becoming clearer that there is some short-term immunity protection that builds up. Now the question is how long will the immunity last. Once you have tested negative twice, you cannot infect others.
Question: What about contact sports? Or swimming, jogging or sports where distance is maintained?
Devi Sridhar: Anything outdoors with enough social distance is safe because outdoor transmission seems to be very limited. So if you are jogging outside, and keeping safe; if you are playing Tennis or Cricket and keeping space and wearing gloves if you are handling similar equipment seem safe. Swimming outdoors is safe as well. However, swimming inside is problematic because it involves showers, changing area through which the virus can spread.
Question: Can one go to a salon/ barbershop?
Devi Sridhar: You need to be very careful because hairdressers and barbers see a lot of people. The important things to do are to make sure they are wearing a mask, you have a mask, you wash your hands afterwards and much as possible keep a distance from others in the shop. There is some risk in visiting such places depending upon the level of transmission in the area you live.
Question: Is it ok to visit a Dentist or a family doctor?
Devi Sridhar: You can go to your doctors and dentists but must follow the same precautions as while visiting other places. Stay far from other people in the hospital.
Question: Can people visit friends in their homes?
Devi Sridhar: The key thing if you decide to visit a friend is to make sure that you and your friends are not having any symptoms like fever, cough and other. People living with them should not have the symptoms either. Wear a mask while meeting people as it is a good protective measure.
Question: What should one do if they are a little feverish, have a cough but not feeling very unwell?
Devi Sridhar: The first thing to do is to make sure you isolate yourself and monitor your symptoms closely. It generally takes about 4-5 days in which people either recover from it or their symptoms become worse. If at that point your condition is getting worse, you must contact your doctor and try if you can get tested.
Question: What to do if a person in the neighbourhood (50-100 yards away) gets infected?
Devi Sridhar: In this case, you must think if you have been around this person in a close radius, two meters distance or if you have shared any similar entrances or mailboxes in the building. Studies from Italy show that if you are in the same building as a person suffering from COVID-19, chances are that you have been exposed to the virus as well. But if there’s someone outside, like long way away then it is unlikely.
Question: Can currency notes and coins carry the virus?
Devi Sridhar: Yes, the virus can stay active on currency notes and coins. The key thing to do is always wash your hands afterwards. It all depends on how quickly someone who is infected touches the notes and then how quickly you touch them and then touch your mouth or nose or eyes. The best thing is to be cautious, was hands or wear gloves while handling money.
Question: What is the life of the virus on different surfaces?
Devi Sridhar: It could be a few days on something like the surface of a mobile phone to a few minutes on surfaces outside like a bench.
Question: How long does the virus last on clothes?
Devi Sridhar: On clothes, the estimate is about a day but again this is what experiments have shown. We must remain cautious while touching clothes that may have come in contact with the virus.
Question: Can one start travelling by train, a plane or a bus now?
Devi Sridhar: We are just at the start of this pandemic and it is going to run for quite a long time. Therefore, you need to be attentive to where you are travelling, what are the hygiene cautions in place, are otherS wearing masks. Most importantly, travel only if absolutely essential.
Questions: Can people allow carpenters, plumbers, electricians into homes?
Devi Sridhar: You can but only if it is urgent. Make sure that people who come in have their masks on, their shoes are left outside, hands are washed and surfaces are disinfected.
Question: How to disinfect an area where someone has been?
Devi Sridhar: You can use soap and water to disinfect the surfaces touch.
Question: Is it ok to send clothes to be washed/ ironed by someone outside?
Devi Sridhar: Yes but when the clothes come back, you much leave them outside for a day or two and throw away the wrapping of the packet they come back in.
Question: How can one help a friend or relative who is infected?
Devi Sridhar: This first thing to do is to ensure that you call them and reach out to them. They must be in isolation physically but socially you can make sure that they are feeling fine and not too lonely. Also, make sure you can help with groceries, any medication they need. You can help them with any responsibilities they have in terms of taking care of their children if needed.
Question: Can children be carriers of COVID-19?
Devi Sridhar: We do know that children can carry the virus. A German study found that children can carry the same viral load as adults. But there is not enough clarity on how they can transmit to adults. It is better to be cautious.
Question: How can a person get tested safely, considering that there are queues and crowds in hospitals?
Devi Sridhar: The best way is to get an online or phone appointment. It is important to space out the appointments so that the people should not pick up the virus at testing stations. South Korea has shown that it can be done through phone booths, drive through, and walk through stations.