April 09, 2020
State Latest News | Coronavirus | Bangor Metro | Christopher Cassidy | Today's Paper

Can I still go outside under a stay-at-home order, and other answers to BDN readers’ questions

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
The entire state of Maine is going under a stay at home order beginning at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Gov. Janet Mills ordered people to stay home except to shop for necessities or go to jobs deemed essential.

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With Mainers hunkering down to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, we’re answering questions from Bangor Daily News readers about the virus and how it spreads. If you have questions, ask them here.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

Ray, Brewer: “Once a person recovers from the COVID-19, can they get it again or are they immune?”

The short answer is that, unfortunately, we don’t know yet. We’re still in the early stages of understanding this novel virus, and this is one of the many questions that is as of yet unanswered.

However, there are some hints from past coronaviruses (remember, “coronaviruses” are a large family of viruses that cause cold and flu-like symptoms with varying degrees of severity).

The good news is that antibodies that patients produce during infection give them immunity to the specific virus for months or even years, even though researchers are still figuring out if and how that works with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. A Taiwanese study published in 2007 found that survivors of the SARS-CoV-1 outbreak in 2003 (a reminder: this coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2) had antibodies that lasted for up to three years, which suggested immunity. Survivors of the coronavirus known as Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, were found by a study published in 2016 to have antibodies up to two years later — and the sicker the patient was when they were infected, the longer-lasting the immune response was.

Here’s the rub, according to NPR: for the four seasonal coronaviruses that cause between a tenth and a third of common colds, reinfection is an issue. After all, people get colds again and again, even if they have been exposed to these viruses since childhood. The antibodies are present after infection, but the levels slowly decline until the person becomes susceptible again (even though coronaviruses don’t seem to mutate in a way that requires year-to-year vigilance, like with the flu).

Regardless, none of these results can be translated directly to COVID-19, so only time (and research) will tell. Experts told Time that they estimate COVID-19 antibodies could remain in a patient’s system for two to three years based on clues from past coronaviruses, but it is too early to say for sure.

Debra, Auburn: “How are inmates getting COVID-19 and spreading it when they haven’t been outside jail?”

The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 primarily spreads from person to person through close contact, according to the CDC. Therefore, if the virus were to infect an inmate, it’s believed it would be transmitted to the inmate from a person traveling outside the jail, such as a prison worker or visitor. Because many people take days to develop symptoms of the disease, a person could unintentionally pass the virus to an inmate.

Due to the layout of most prisons (communal dining areas, shared rooms), social distancing is difficult. So if an inmate were to become infected, the virus might easily spread through the population. For this reason, a number of inmates have been recently released from Knox County Prison and Cumberland County Jail in an effort to lower the population within those facilities to reduce the number of people at risk in those facilities and make social distancing easier.

No one in either Maine facility is suspected of having the virus at this time, but as COVID-19 spreads across Maine, the state’s jails and prisons are trying to prevent the virus from spreading within correctional settings.

In late March, an employee assigned to the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren tested positive for the new coronavirus. The employee had not been on-site at the minimum security facility since March 20 and had been self-quarantining pending the results of the test.

As of April 7, 241 federal inmates and 73 Federal Bureau of Prisons staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide. There had been 8 federal inmate deaths and no staff member deaths attributed to the disease.

Carolyn, Rockland: “Should I wear a mask when I’m outside exercising (walking) if I am keeping a 6-foot distance?”

On April 3, the United State Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines and recommendations regarding wearing of masks in public. The CDC is advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

The CDC emphasised it is critical to maintain six-feet social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. As of April 2, all of Maine was under an executive stay-at-home order.

Jane, Bangor: “I just saw info on the news about disinfecting all the products we bring home from the grocery store, etc. Should we throw out the plastic bags that carried them?”

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is a respiratory illness, which means it typically spreads via airborne droplets. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets carrying viral particles can land on someone else’s nose or mouth or get inhaled. But a person can sometimes get the coronavirus if they touch a surface or object that has viral particles on it and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes.

The study showed COVID-19 virus can live for up to three days on plastics, including plastics used as grocery bags. Bags can be disinfected using household items like bleach and then stored in a disinfected area. However, the study also emphasized the importance of washing your hands after coming in contact with a surface like a plastic shopping bag and not touching your face as the two best ways to minimize the chance of picking up COVID-19 from surfaces.

JP, Belfast: “What about vehicle registration and the May 1st winter tire law? How do we navigate dealing with town office closures and the stay at home mandates?”

According to the Maine Department of Transportation, as of April 6, there are no plans to extend the May 1 deadline for removing studded tires. The reasoning behind this is twofold: Auto repair shops and garages have been declared essential businesses under Gov. Janet Mills executive stay at home order. In addition, running studded tires on Maine roadways is very damaging to the surface and the longer the studded tires remain in use, the more damage they cause.

As part of the current state of emergency in Maine, the state Legislature has waived enforcement against all motor vehicle and trailer registrations and inspections that expire during the state of emergency. Registration and inspection deadlines are extended up to 30 days after the state of emergency is called off.

According to the Maine Municipal Association, each municipality in the state should review its programs and staff and determine which are essential under the current state of emergency or required under specific laws and ordinances. Municipalities should continue to offer these services while taking all social distancing measures possible, including allowing staff to work remotely. Generally, the municipalities have the discretion to determine if it needs to have minimal staff in the office or whether necessary services can be delivered remotely by staff working off-site. To determine what your municipality has decided to do, you should call your town office.

No name or town given: “I live out of state and own a home in Maine for which I pay property taxes. Will I be prevented from [traveling] to my Maine house? If not, are there requirements I must undertake?”

You will not be prevented from traveling to your house in Maine; however, you should check the regulations of any states you have to travel through to get here. Once you arrive, you will be required to stay at home for two weeks. On April 4 Mills ordered anyone — resident or non-resident — traveling into Maine to self-quarantine for 14 days to help deter the spread of COVID-19. In addition, while in Maine, you are subject to all the requirements stipulated in the executive stay-at-home order.

Norm, Baldwin: “Gov. Mills ordered that persons ‘entering Maine’ must quarantine for 14 days. In her order I see no exception for people who go grocery shopping in NH and come right back the same day, nor for people who work in NH and come home at night. What’s the rule on that?”

According to the Maine Center for Disease and Prevention, there are no quarantine orders for people who make short trips back and forth across the border for work. But cross border travel should be limited to short, essential trips.

Nicole (no town given): “I am wondering if, under the stay-at-home order, it is OK to drive separately and meet a friend at an outdoor recreation area while observing social distancing of keeping 6 feet apart while walking?”

Technically speaking, yes. As long as you drive separately to the trailhead and remain six feet apart for the duration of your time together, you are within the rules of the stay-at-home order. However, it’s important to note that some experts say that doing this isn’t actually true social distancing, which is needed to flatten the curve.

In issuing the stay-at-home order Mills specifically noted the importance of Mainers getting outside for what she called “abbreviated exercise” by hiking, fishing, bicycling, running or taking a walk. She listed these activities as essential for Maine residents, but cautioned they must be undertaken in accordance with the transportation and social distancing guidelines in her order. So when you are on your hike, give other people plenty of space, at least six feet, at all times. If you’re passing someone on a narrow trail, find a good spot to step off the trail and let them pass.

Janice (no town given): “I read your article this morning about ‘essential’ outdoor activity. My question is about an essential inside activity which I haven’t seen covered, and thought perhaps you have an answer or can find one. Many of us older folks rely on housekeepers, some more often than others, for what we are unable to do on our own any longer. If we are careful to distance from one another and they are gloved, while they are here, does this pose a problem, and can our building owners restrict them from entering the property? Any advice you can give is appreciated.”

Under Mills’ stay-at-home order, individuals who work and assist Maine’s elderly citizens in their residence are considered essential workers. Contract workers like housekeepers are considered part of that workforce and may come into your home to perform necessary services. It is crucial that both the worker and resident adhere to practical six-foot physical distancing from each other, ideally never being in the same room at the same time and staying as far apart as possible at all times.

Bill, Fletchers Landing: “Can mosquitos or other biting insects transmit COVID-19?”

According to the World Health Organization, to date there is no indication COVID-19 is transmitted through mosquito bites. The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Also, avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing and sneezing. So while mosquito bites will continue to be annoying, they present no known risk of COVID-19.

Cindy, Newport: “It would be beneficial for people to know the towns in each county that have residents who have tested positive for coronavirus. This information could alleviate anxiety if the towns with cases are not close by and let people know if the town in which they live has the potential of community spread.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said it will not provide the names of towns or cities in which individuals reside who have tested positive for COVID-19. Rather, Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah recommends all people in Maine should be practicing COVID-19 preventative measures as if the virus was already in their town.

Heidi, Wiscasset: “The city of Portland has a ‘stay-in-home’ order. May residents still take walks around their neighborhoods?”

As of 12:01 a.m. on April 2, Mills’ emergency stay-at-home order is in effect. It mandates Mainers not leave home except for essential jobs or purchases, though they can exercise outdoors while keeping at least 6 feet from people outside their household. Those caught breaking the stay at home orders are subject to a fine up to $1,000. Under Mills’ orders, if a municipality has stricter regulations in place, than those will take precedence.

The statewide measures echo emergency stay-at-home orders but carry higher fines than those issued in Portland on March 24 and two days later in South Portland. The Portland and South Portland orders included language stating outdoor exercise and/or dog walking are specifically permitted, but people must not gather in groups over 10 and must practice 6-feet physical distancing at all times with people with whom they do not share a household. In Portland the fine for breaking the order is $500.

Monica, Bangor: “Is the coronavirus more dangerous if a woman is in the first trimester of her pregnancy? And what are some important facts to know about COVID-19 and a woman that’s early in pregnancy?”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it does not have information on adverse pregnancy outcomes in pregnant women with COVID-19. But it does indicate that high fevers during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of certain birth defects. In addition, the CDC said pregnancy loss, including miscarriage and stillbirth, has been observed in cases of infection with other related coronaviruses [SARS-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)] during pregnancy.

The CDC says it is not yet known if pregnant women, in any trimester, are more susceptible to COVID-19 or if they are more likely to develop severe symptoms if they contract the disease. But ProPublica reports that, according to the U.S. CDC, it has been shown that pregnant women who catch similar viruses such as influenza or SARS are more vulnerable to severe respiratory problems than other women in the same (i.e., childbearing years) age group.

The CDC adds that, though the number of test cases is fairly small, there is no evidence that a mother with COVID-19 can pass the disease to her fetus or baby. In such cases, the coronavirus has not been found in either the mother’s amniotic fluid or breast milk.

Bob, Liberty: “What income support is there (or is proposed) for self-employed persons whose livelihood requires close contact? My daughter teaches ballroom dance, which clearly is not compatible with social distancing, nor would be considered an essential activity.”

On March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law HR 748, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act . This act includes language that expands eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits to self-employed workers under the following conditions: They are available for work and they are unable to work as a direct result of COVID-19. Weekly benefits for self-employed workers are calculated the same way they are for other workers , including the $600 enhancement. Benefits are available for up to 39 weeks. The eligibility expansion is retroactive to January 27, 2020, meaning self-employed workers can request benefits for weeks of unemployment back to January 27, 2020. The expansion expires at the end of 2020.

Dave, Bangor: “Is the Maine [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] doing contact tracing? How can we have cases from ‘unknown’ counties?”

Maine CDC has a team of investigators who contact patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and ask them questions, such as where they may have traveled recently and with whom they have had recent close contact. Among the questions the investigators ask is where that person’s primary residence is located. The “unknown” category that appears on the list of counties on the Maine CDC website (which indicates the counties where confirmed COVID-19 patients live) represents Mainers whose cases have been reported by Maine health care providers to state officials, but whom have yet to be contacted directly by Maine CDC investigators.

Nan (no town given): “I want to know exactly how many ventilators they each have and how many people at each hospital are trained in their use.”

According to Shah, as of Thursday, April 2, there were 334 ventilators in Maine with 266 available in addition to 186 available alternative ventilators that have been approved for use by the FDA and 127 respiratory therapists available in Maine. Shah said he has requested an additional 400 ventilators from the national stockpile. He’s also called for retired, not currently working or recently unlicensed respiratory therapists to volunteer to be deployed around the state if needed to operate the ventilators. As of April 2, there were a total of 285 intensive care unit beds with 122 available.

Ellen (no town given): “Is there any test to show that a person has already had the virus and has recovered? Since many people with the virus have mild or no symptoms at all, how can we tell if we have had it? If we did have it and have antibodies to the virus, are we protected for the time being from getting it again?”

There is some evidence, according to the Journal of American Medical Association, that people who get sick from COVID-19 and then recover may still carry some of the genetic material from the virus for up to five to 13 days after their symptoms decrease, which could result in the patients still testing positive. There also have been reports of people recovering from the disease after having been hospitalized, but then having symptoms return and having to resume treatment. There is a lot about COVID-19 that is unknown, because it is so new, but some medical professionals say that it is likely patients who recover from the disease will develop some degree of resistance to catching it again.

Nathan (no town given): “Knowing the county breakdown of those people would be very helpful to readers who are trying to put together a picture of relative risk in different parts of the state. Given the paucity of testing, knowing the county where potential exposures have happened would be a useful additional data point as individuals attempt to assess relative risk.”

State officials in Maine have said — repeatedly — that Mainers should not try to assess the risk in their communities of contracting COVID-19 based upon the number of confirmed cases publicly released by the Maine CDC. Cases are reported based upon where a patient’s official residence is located, not necessarily on where that patient is physically located, and because of the current limitations on testing, there most certainly are more people in Maine who have COVID-19 than the public testing results indicate.

The statistics posted on the Maine CDC website “could provide folks with a false sense of security,” Shah has said. “No one should be waiting until they see cases in their county. The assumption for everyone in the state right now should be” that COVID-19 is in their local community.

June, Bangor: “Many of us have never filed an unemployment claim. When are we eligible to file a claim? Do we file the first day our office closes or do we wait until the following week?”

On March 17, emergency bipartisan legislation passed in Maine to support workers and businesses affected by Covid-19. The Maine Department of Labor has temporarily revised eligibility to include situations not typically covered, including:

—An employer temporarily ceases operation due to coronavirus.

—An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work once their quarantine is over.

People filing for unemployment that fall under this emergency legislation should file immediately.

The typical one-week waiting period for unemployment claims has been waived for instances relating to Covid-19.

To file for benefits or see a list of FAQs for employees and employers, please visit the Maine Department of Labor website.

Les, Jonesboro: “Is full-strength vinegar an option for wiping down surfaces that may be contaminated with coronavirus?”

According to Dr. David Evans, a professor in the department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Alberta, the answer is no. Global News Edmonton asked Dr. Evans this very question. Here’s his response: “Although acids will inactivate viruses (vinegar is acetic acid), it’s quite dilute and the pH isn’t likely low enough.”

If you can’t find disinfectant wipes, Dr. Evans suggests that hot soapy water on a cloth would be a great substitute. The U.S. CDC also recommends soap and water. They also suggest disinfecting with a diluted bleach solution. To make: mix ⅓ cup of bleach with a gallon of water.

“Once diagnosed with coronavirus, what is the treatment, step by step?”

As of March 22, there is no vaccine for COVID-19. And since it’s a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective.

If you are sick, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests staying in contact with your doctor and remaining at home. People who have a mild case can recover at home. Call your doctor or local emergency room if you start to feel worse.

Since there is no medicine to take, if you are sick you should isolate yourself in your house. Keep away from other family members and use a different bathroom if possible. The U.S. CDC recommends staying in a “sick room” and asking someone else to care for your pets.

You should even refrain from sharing personal household items, such as dishes, glasses and towels. Clean and disinfect high-touch surface areas in your isolation room and bathroom daily. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of approved disinfectants for use against COVID-19.

“How do we know, after getting sick, that we are now safe to stop isolation?”

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, and you have been in quarantine for the recommended 14 days, you may come out of quarantine if you have had two tests come back negative for the virus, officials say. The U.S. CDC says that if your health care provider will not be giving you a test to determine if you are still contagious, you may come out of quarantine after these following three things have happened:

— You have been fever free for 72 hours without taking medicine to reduce your fever.

— Other symptoms have improved. For example, you are having a much easier time breathing.

— At least 7 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared.

If you will be tested to see if you are still contagious, you must have two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart, in order to leave quarantine.

Reza, Tehran: “I want to know if fruit can transmit the coronavirus.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently unaware of any reports of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.

United Fresh Produce Association has issued a statement:

“There are no clinically confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to the consumption of fresh produce or food sold through traditional retail outlets. As consumers select their produce, adhering to food safety guidance is critical. We encourage consumers to wash their hands, and wash and prepare their produce following FDA recommendations.”

Keeping your hands clean and away from your face is the best way to lower your risk in contracting COVID-19. Wash everything with soap and water. This includes your hands, fruits, vegetables, and nonporous containers.

“How can I tell the difference between the coronavirus and common cold or flu?”

COVID-19, common cold or flu? Here’s a story outlining the differences between them.

Some of the symptoms overlap. Here is a list of the most common symptoms with each:

— COVID-19 symptoms: fever, dry cough, shortness of breath.

— Flu symptoms: fever, fatigue, cough, aches and pains, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

— Cold symptoms: runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, aches and pains, sore throat.

The CDC is advising people who think they have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms such as a cough or difficulty breathing, to call their health care provider for medical advice.

“How long can you carry the virus before you get sick?”

The CDC reports that the incubation period for COVID-19 — the time between when you contact a virus and when symptoms start — is somewhere between 2 to 14 days. Symptoms include fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath.

According to a study by the American College of Physicians, 97.5 percent of those who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor or local emergency room before leaving your home.

“Why haven’t child care providers closed their doors?”

As of 10 a.m. on March 17, the state has not recommended closing childcare programs. If you are a private business owner, the choice to stay open is yours.

According to the CDC, children don’t appear to be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than adults. While the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults, children with confirmed COVID-19 generally present with milder symptoms.

Child and Family Services also recommends the following for childcare providers:

— Wash hands and disinfect surfaces often.

— Require staff and children to stay home if they feel ill.

— Edit your drop off / pick up time to meet your programs needs.

Heidi, Old Town: “If schools are closed should I send my kids to daycare?”

Across Maine, schools have closed and adults have been urged to work from home. The biggest concern is the spread of COVID-19 happening faster than hospitals can safely accommodate. By social distancing, we’re “flattening the curve” of infections to make sure our healthcare system can adequately treat the masses.

[As schools close, daycares remain open to ‘stand with America’s essential employees’]

While the CDC reports that children have the same level of risk as adults in contracting COVID-19, their symptoms are milder. But kids share germs easily, and bring those germs home to their other family members — including those who are high risk: older adults, people with chronic medical conditions and those who are immunocompromised.

If you can keep your children at home, it’s the best way to practice social distancing. However, knowing not everyone can work from home, be sure your child is not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 (such as a fever and coughing) when you send them to daycare. The CDC suggests any child or staff member should stay home if they feel sick.

“Can dogs get and transmit the virus to/from humans?”

Your four-legged friends are likely safe. According to The World Health Organization, “While there has been one instance of a dog being infected in Hong Kong, to date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.”

[What you need to know about your pets and spreading coronavirus]

The American Veterinary Medical Association says while two dogs (Hong Kong) and one cat (Belgium) have been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, transmission primarily occurs when there is contact with an infected person’s bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze. Transmission via touching a contaminated surface or object (i.e., a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly eyes is also possible, but appears to be a secondary route. Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g., countertops, door knobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (e.g., pet fur) because porous, especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch.

Judy, Orono: “I’m wondering specifically about whether the virus can survive on money (both bills and coins) and, if so, for how long and what precautions we should take? And what about mail, or any paper or cardboard surface?”

There is currently no definitive scientific evidence that coronavirus can spread through paper money or coins. According to the CDC, COVID-19 primarily spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.

However, the World Health Organization suggests practicing good hygiene after handling money by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Coins, which are more smooth and nonporous, can transmit disease easier than bills, but you shouldn’t be too concerned. “Basic rule of thumb should be to consider money dirty anyway, because it is. It goes through too many hands not to be,” Rachel Graham, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, told Business Insider. Credit and debit cards are less risky, because they can be wiped clean. However, card readers are high-touch surfaces, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after using one.

The WHO has also stated that, based on what it knows from other coronaviruses, objects like letters and packages are not good environments for transmitting the virus.

According to a study conducted by the Virus Ecology Section of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a facility in Hamilton, Mont. that is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Covid-19 can be viable on cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours.

Myrna, Belfast: “If one person in a household tests positive with mild symptoms and self-quarantines at home, what precautions do the other family members need to take?”

Individuals who are under a self-quarantine in their home should stay in a specific room, away from other people in the home, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control website. They should also use a separate bathroom if possible. Any shared spaces in the home should have good airflow. When the infected person is around others in the home they should wear a facemask. If they are unable to wear a facemask because it makes breathing difficult, the other person should wear a facemask.

People should not share household items, such as dishes, drinkware or bedding with an infected person. All items used by the symptomatic person should be thoroughly washed after use. Items or surfaces in the home that are touched frequently, such as phones, doorknobs and counters, should be cleaned everyday. Any bedding used by an infected person that has bodily fluids on it should be washed immediately. Gloves should be worn during this process.

In caring for an infected person, a caretaker should wear a disposable facemask and gloves when they touch or have contact with the patient’s blood, stool or body fluids, such as saliva, sputum, nasal mucus, vomit or urine. Do not reuse the face mask or gloves. Caretakers should then thoroughly wash their hands. Caregivers should also closely monitor their own health and call their healthcare provider right away if they develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath)

Doug, Dexter, and Donna, Old Town: “What is the reason for hoarding toilet paper? Seeing carts full of toilet paper, with nothing on the shelf for the elderly that just need it.”

Basically, if you’re at the grocery store, and you see there’s no toilet paper, you’re probably going to feel like you need to stock up because it’s in short supply.

“Scarcity is a really powerful driver of consumption,” Adam Alter, who teaches marketing and psychology at the New York University Stern School of Business, told Marketwatch.org.

Empty shelves lead to panic. And buying in bulk. If you can’t find it, you feel you should stock up. Toilet paper is a basic hygiene product that you don’t want to think about doing without.

Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London tells CNBC that it’s also a way for consumers to take back control in a world where they are not in control.

Christina, Bangor: “How long does [COVID-19] live on different surfaces?”

According to online information provided by Harvard Medical School at Harvard Health Publishing, while there is still a great deal that is not known how variables like exposure to sunlight, heat or cold affect survival times, a recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The researchers also found that this virus can hang out as droplets in the air for up to three hours before they fall. But most often they will fall more quickly.

As research continues, it’s important to follow the CDC’s recommendations for cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects every day. These include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables.

If surfaces are dirty, first clean them using a detergent and water, then disinfect them. A list of products suitable for use against COVID-19 is available here. This list has been pre-approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for use during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition, 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 you may have come into contact with infected surfaces.

Sandy, Auburn: “Is COVID-19 able to withstand and survive on frozen food?”

Food, whether frozen, fresh or from a can, is not a major risk factor for the transmission of the new coronavirus. While it might not be advisable to eat food that someone else has clearly sneezed on, the virus typically starts with the respiratory system, not the digestive tract, Daniel Kuritzkes, an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told NPR. That means the infection is more likely to occur if you get the virus on your hands and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, while transmission via food is not a significant risk. The USDA says it is not aware of any reports that would suggest the transmission of coronavirus via food or food packaging.

The greater concern with food safety would be the spread over shared utensils that are touched by many people at a buffet, for example. Regardless of where you are eating, washing your hands thoroughly is the best way to protect yourself.

Holly, Vassalboro: “Cell phones and laptops are the most commonly hand-touched devices that I use. What is a safe way to ‘wipe down’ a cell phone? Does alcohol hurt the screens or keyboards?”

Apple updated its “How to Clean Apple Products” section recently to say that using Clorox Disinfectant Wipes or any other wipes with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol is fine to use on hard, exterior surfaces. However, do not spray your device with any aerosol cleaners directly. Do not use bleach, dish soap or window cleaners to clean phones. If your phone is water resistant, wiping it with a soft, damp microfiber cloth can work. Do not use paper towels, towels or abrasive cloths to wipe phones as it might damage screens.

As for frequently touched surfaces like door handles, ATMs and railings, how often they are cleaned varies greatly. The coronavirus has been known to stay on a surface for several days. Use paper towels or sleeves to touch surfaces that you are concerned about.

Ed, Auburn: What makes this COVID-19 any different than the swine flu, or other severe flu types?

COVID-19 and the flu are both respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms — cough, fever, shortness of breath. However, coronavirus seems to spread more easily than the flu and the mortality rate, though not exact, is around 1 percent, whereas the flu’s mortality rate is 0.1 percent.

The new coronavirus has spread more than more severe illnesses like the bird flu or ebola, which are deadlier, according to a comparison chart by the New York Times.

Lloyd, Calais: “How many people have recovered from the coronavirus without further complications?”

As the number of infections rises across the world, so does the number of recoveries. According to a live dashboard maintained by Johns Hopkins University, more than 202,935 people, most of them in China, have recovered from the virus. However, the global pandemic continues to spread, with more than 962,977 infections and 49,180 deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University site.

And according to a research study by the Journal of American Medical Association, four patients who met criteria for hospital discharge or discontinuation of quarantine in China tested positive for the virus again, 5 to 13 days later.

Ben, Waterville (but currently in the United Kingdom): “Will I be able to travel to Maine?”

As of Thursday, April 2, all of Maine is under a 30-day stay-at-home order issued by Mills. All nonessential travel is strongly discouraged during this time. The advice from authorities and public health experts to people wondering about travel is to stay put if possible.

The United States Centers for Disease Control reports most foreign nationals who have been in United Kingdom during the previous 14 days will not be permitted entry into the United States

Kathy, Bangor: “Has Maine made any plans to set up information hotlines and/or drive by screening sites, to avoid some infected patients going to crowded clinics, ERs or doctors offices?”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a hotline available to Mainers with questions about COVID-19, the disease caused by the infection. The hotline is available by calling 211 or 1-866-811-5695. It can also be reached by texting your zipcode to 898-211 or emailing info@211maine.org.

The Maine CDC advises people who exhibit symptoms or who think they were exposed to COVID-19 to call a medical provider before going to a healthcare facility — or, if they do not have a primary care physician, to call an urgent care center — so the provider can determine if testing is advisable prior to the person showing up at a hospital or doctor’s office, where other people could be exposed.

On April 2, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said his agency was working with other state agencies, including the Maine Emergency Management Agency, in preparing external sites for medical staff to evaluate and triage individuals with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. This is ready to be deployed when and if needed.

Nan, Belfast: “What are our local hospitals doing to prepare for the coming of the virus? Do they have sufficient supplies? How will they deal with a shortage of nurses, doctors and other workers once they start having to be quarantined?”

In Bangor, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center is preparing for the possibility that there could be an influx of patients with COVID-19 by closely monitoring its inventory of supplies and identifying areas in the hospital where groups of patients with the same respiratory infection could be isolated, according to Dr. James Jarvis, EMMC’s senior vice president and senior physician executive. The hospital also has an incident command team that’s monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and identifying what steps it could take to handle a possible surge. In the event a surge strains the hospital’s resources, Jarvis said, it will work with its parent organization to move staff where they’re needed.

Dee, Hampden: “What policies/protocols are being followed by Northern Light associates and St. Joe associates for testing requests?”

Under state guidelines, Northern Light Health hospitals are currently evaluating patients by where they have traveled, their symptoms and their medical condition to determine whether a COVID-19 test is appropriate, according to spokeswoman Suzanne Spruce. At the moment, “wide scale testing is not recommended” so that the hospitals can avoid being overwhelmed, Spruce said. A St. Joseph Healthcare representative wasn’t immediately available to comment.

Dianna, Brewer: “How will medical facilities provide medical attention for those who don’t have insurance or MaineCare coverage? Will that population be able to get treatment at walk-in care or emergency rooms if they have no money to pay out of pocket?”

According to the Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a Maine-based health care advocacy group, you may be eligible for free or low-cost insurance through MaineCare or the Marketplace. You may also be eligible f or other programs that can help with the costs of COVID-19 testing and other medical care you may need. The Maine Department for Health and Human Services has issued emergency rules and taken additional steps to ensure people with MaineCare can access the services they need. You can apply for MaineCare any day of the year. DHHS has made some changes in response to COVID-19 to help make the process of applying and getting MaineCare as quick as possible.

Dr. James Jarvis, of EMMC in Bangor, said that the hospital urges any patients to seek medical care when it’s needed. He said that the hospital has a policy for working with uninsured patients to determine the price of their care and whether they are eligible for charity care.

George, Augusta: “I find no information on whether it is a good idea to enter a hospital for an [elective surgery] during the pandemic.”

According to a written statement issued by Northern Light Health, elective surgeries, office visits, diagnostic tests, endoscopies and other procedures that can be considered nonessential are being assessed for postponement until a later date. Each case will be evaluated by the patient’s healthcare provider to determine if it should be postponed. Patients will be contacted by their healthcare provider’s office if their procedure, visit, or test can be rescheduled. These steps are in compliance with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Surgeons recommendations.

Linda, Blue Hill: “I would like to know how many people in Maine have been tested.”

According to the Maine CDC, as of 11 a.m. Thursday, April 9, 560 Maine residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Other frequently asked questions

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, the official name for the 2019 novel coronavirus, is a new strain within the same coronavirus family that has caused past global outbreaks.

Coronaviruses can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe infections. They are found in many different species of animals. Some evolve and infect humans, and have infected large numbers of people before, including the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) — which infected 8,000 people and killed 800 in 2003 — and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), according to the U.S. CDC.

People who have COVID-19 have shown flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath.

How does the novel coronavirus spread?

It has spread primarily through person-to-person contact, which means people can catch COVID-19 from others who have been infected.

The virus can be transmitted the same way the common cold and influenza spread — through small droplets from the nose or mouth that spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales, according to the World Health Organization.

These droplets land on objects and surfaces, and if other people touch these surfaces and then touch their face, they can then catch COVID-19. People also can catch the respiratory illness from breathing those droplets in.

The infection might also spread before people show symptoms, according to the U.S. CDC, although this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

COVID-19 does not spread through mosquito bites or through goods shipped from China or any other country that has confirmed infections, according to the WHO.

Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes are at greater risk of developing serious illness than others.

There is no evidence that you can catch COVID-19 from pets such as cats and dogs.

What can I do to avoid catching COVID-19?

Since COVID-19 can spread from being in close contact with someone who is infected, maintaining a safe distance (about 6 feet) from a patient reduces the risk of catching the infection.

Regularly and thoroughly washing your hands, ideally with soap and water, or using

alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills viruses that may be on your hands.

(Alcohol that you drink — such as Tito’s vodka — cannot be used as a hand sanitizer.)

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, because hands touch many surfaces, can pick up viruses and can transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth.

Given that COVID-19 spreads through inhaling small droplets, the WHO advises covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze to limit the spread of those droplets. Dispose of that used tissue immediately.

Health agencies also recommend staying home if you feel unwell to protect yourself and prevent the spread of viruses.

What should I do if I experience coronavirus-like symptoms?

If you have symptoms of the coronavirus — shortness of breath, cough, fever, chest pain— it is important that you call your healthcare provider’s office before you seek treatment, according to the Maine CDC.

“What we don’t want happening, is for coronavirus to go from being travel associated, which it largely is right now, to being hospital associated. And that can happen when folks go to the emergency room,” Shah said.

Where you go to get tested depends on where you have health care access. “For a lot of folks, the easiest thing to do is to go to their primary health care physician… for other folks, urgent care may be the best option. Tests are available from health care providers across the state,” Shah said.

Currently, tests are available at primary care offices, urgent cares and emergency rooms, according to the Maine CDC. Clinicians are able to administer testing which can be a nasal swab, a throat swab or both.

If a doctor feels that a patient warrants testing, the doctor can then contact the Maine CDC to be sure that the patient should be tested, or the doctor can take a sample and send it to the CDC office in Augusta, with an acquisition form, for testing.

It typically takes around 48 hours to receive results.

Is COVID-19 more dangerous than the flu?

There have been a lot of comparisons between the flu and the new respiratory illness. While the flu remains much more common than COVID-19, coronavirus seems to spread more quickly and make people sicker than the flu, according to The New York Times.

There’s no approved vaccine or medication available for COVID-19 yet, and health organizations continue to research the virus.

Antibiotics cannot treat the virus, mainly because COVID-19 is a virus and antibiotics are used for bacterial infections.

The lack of information is one factor that makes COVID-19 more dangerous than the more common and more familiar flu.

Should I buy a mask?

Healthy people should only use a mask if they’re taking care of a COVID-19 patient. There is a worldwide shortage of masks, according to the WHO, that can be exacerbated when people who don’t need them buy them.

If you are not sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or looking after someone who has COVID-19, you are wasting a mask. The same goes for gloves.

“Surging global demand — driven not only by the number of COVID-19 cases but also by misinformation, panic buying and stockpiling — will result in further shortages of personal protective equipment globally,” the WHO website says.

Should I cancel my travel plans?

The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential international travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some health care systems are overwhelmed, and there may be limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas. Many countries are implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and in-country travel may be unpredictable. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be disrupted, and you may have to remain outside the United States for an indefinite length of time.

The CDC has an online map showing the geographic risk assessment by country. The data includes known cases of COVID-19 in a specific country and travel advisories for each country.

In Maine, Mills’ stay-at-home order, effective April 2, bans all nonessential travel in the state. Essential travel does include going to areas in Maine open for hiking, bicycling, fishing, walking, running and other outdoor exercising activities. In issuing the order, Mills stressed for the 30-days of the order, people should consider “abbreviated outdoor exercise” and are required to adhere to the 6-foot physical distancing rule from other individuals and not gather in groups of more than 10. People may drive to trailheads, cycling paths, open beaches or other areas in private vehicles, but passengers are limited to members of their immediate household, unless they are transporting someone out of medical necessity. Public transportation in Maine may only be used for travel associated with essential work that can’t be done from home, or for other essential needs as outlined in Mills’ order.

The CDC recommends reconsidering cruise ship travel worldwide.

Within the U.S., know which states have confirmed coronavirus cases. Here is an interactive map to see which states have confirmed cases. President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency on March 13 and Mills declared a state of emergency in Maine on March 15. Mills’ emergency order allows the governor to assume more power over the outbreak, including suspending the enforcement of laws, establishing emergency reserves of certain products and entering into mutual aid agreements with other states or countries. Practice respiratory hygiene and avoid traveling if sick. On March 31, Mills issued a statewide stay at home order which went into effect April 2.

Reliable sources for information include your local health agency, the Maine CDC, the U.S. CDC and the WHO.

BDN writers Charlie Eichacker, Bill Trotter, Ali Tobey, Melanie Brooks and Julia Bayly contributed to this report.

 


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