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Questions About COVID-19 You May Not Have Considered Yet

You’ve probably been Googling information about COVID-19 during the recent crisis. Maybe you found the answers you needed, but you’re not quite sure how to interpret them. Or maybe everything you’ve read has just made you more nervous than before. We hope the answers below will clear up any confusion — and we’ve added answers to a few questions you may not have thought to ask yet.

How will I know if I have coronavirus? Are the symptoms different in adults and children?

The most typical symptoms of coronavirus are fever, cough and shortness of breath. However, some patients also develop aches and pains, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea and a runny nose. Children generally display milder symptoms than adults. Anyone who develops severe symptoms — including trouble breathing, chest pain or pressure, confusion, inability to stay awake or bluish lips or face — should seek immediate medical attention. 

More information on coronavirus symptoms from the CDC

What can I do if I might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19?

Download our information sheet to understand the steps to protect yourself if you know or suspect that you came in contact with someone with COVID-19.

How long does COVID-19 live on different surfaces?

Early studies have shown that the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on nonporous surfaces such as glass, plastic and stainless steel for anywhere from three to seven days, depending on the material and environmental factors. While the virus may survive, it is unlikely to infect you just from being on that surface, because over time the virus degrades. Infection happens when those particles reach your mucous membranes: your eyes, your nose or the inside of your mouth. That’s why you need to be cautious: Avoid touching your face and remember to wash your hands frequently.

Learn more from the CDC on COVID-19 surface spreading

Should I wipe off my groceries? What about the bags — should I use plastic or reusable bags?

Currently there is no evidence that coronavirus can survive on food for a substantial amount of time. Unlike bacterial cells (such as salmonella or E. coli), which can survive and multiply on food surfaces for a long time, viral cells require a living host to multiply – so they die off relatively quickly on the surface of, say, an apple. Be sure to clean the food item as you would normally to prevent foodborne illnesses. If you’re still not so sure about consuming raw items, you can cook them! Always follow the recommended guidelines for cooking poultry, meat and seafood.

When it comes to unpacking your groceries, it’s a good idea to designate a specific surface to place your bags on. Wash your hands, unload your grocery bags onto that surface, clean the surface afterward and wash your hands again. For an added layer of security, you can use a disinfectant wipe to clean off bottles, boxes, etc.

Plastic bags do have a benefit: They are disposable. Empty your plastic bags, throw them in the recycling bin, clean and disinfect your countertop and wash your hands. Reusable bags can be wiped clean with a disinfectant wipe if you are worried, but by the time you need to use them again, it’s highly likely that the virus will no longer be living on it.

Is it safe to bring my mail indoors?

The short answer is yes, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that the virus lives on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on nonporous materials such as stainless steel for up to three days. With that in mind, here are a few steps you can take to keep yourself safe:

  • When possible, open packages outdoors, and recycle or throw out any packaging before you bring your item inside.
  • If your delivery must be opened inside, be sure to bring a disinfecting wipe and clean the surface of the delivery before you bring it inside. Designate a single surface for opening packages, and clean and disinfect that surface after you’ve disposed of the packaging. Wash your hands after handling the package.

How can I prepare my pantry for a pandemic?

When getting ready for any emergency, it’s important to prepare your pantry! Shelf-stable items are a must: think canned vegetables, tuna, beans (canned or dry), soups, rice, pasta, granola bars, etc. Stock up on items that you normally find in the center of the grocery store. When preparing for an imminent emergency, you can also stock up on fruits and veggies that can be stored for long amounts of time, such as apples or oranges. Always remember to thoroughly cook and reheat foods and keep in mind how long leftovers may last.

It might be tempting to go to the grocery store to get out of the house, but it is vitally important to limit the number of trips you take to stores, as recent studies have shown that COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not show symptoms. Many stores now offer online ordering with curbside pickup, where a store employee will bring your pre-purchased items out to your car. Apps such as Instacart enable you to order groceries online and have them delivered to your house. Consider using one of these services rather than taking the risk associated with going to the store.

More information from the CDC on person-to-person spread and their "Household Checklist"

Is it safe to get takeout?

Current evidence shows that the COVID-19 virus does not survive on food or its packaging, but it’s not a bad idea to transfer any takeout to a different container. Be sure to throw away any exterior packaging, such as paper or plastic bags, and wash your hands before eating your takeout. Always reheat foods as recommended by the FDA.

Should I wear a mask in public? Can I make my own mask with household items?

If you have a cough or fever, it is recommended that you wear a mask if you must leave your home — for instance, to go to the doctor’s office — so you won’t infect others.

Right now the CDC recommends wearing a mask in public, as it has become evident that coronavirus can be spread by people who are infected but are not yet showing symptoms. There is a worldwide shortage of the most protective masks — N-95 respirators and surgical masks — which should be reserved for healthcare workers and medical first responders, such as EMTs. Those masks are specially formulated to protect the wearer in cases of close contact — such a doctor or nurse caring for a patient — and may not be readily available for public purchase.

It is possible to make a mask with materials you already have in your home. However, homemade masks are not 100% effective in preventing infection, so even if you wear a mask, you must continue to practice physical distancing and frequent hand washing.

Watch the World Health Organization's video on when to wear a mask

Is ammonia a disinfectant? Is bleach?

Ammonia is not a registered EPA disinfectant. While it is a great glass cleanser and has other wonderful cleaning properties, it is not effective against all household germs.

Bleach, when properly diluted, can be an effective disinfectant when used on appropriate surfaces, but not all surfaces can be cleaned with bleach. Before using bleach, ensure that your bleach has not expired, as bleach does lose effectiveness over time. Bleach should be diluted in cold water — not warm water, which may degrade its active ingredient. Never mix bleach with ammonia or any other household cleaner, as this produces toxic chlorine gas.

When cleaning and disinfecting a surface, it is important to follow the manufacturers’ guidelines on the side of the product regarding proper usage and ventilation. First, put on a pair of gloves. Clean the surface with soap and water (if appropriate). Then apply your disinfectant, allowing it to sit on the surface for a few minutes. Wipe off excess disinfectant and let the surface dry.

See the EPA's full list of disinfectants to use against COVID-19

Should I clean my phone? What about my tablet or e-reader?

It’s probably a good idea to clean your phone, as early research shows that COVID-19 viral cells can live on nonporous surfaces, such your phone, for up to three days. Be careful when cleaning your smartphone, because a lot of household cleansers may harm your device. The CDC recommends that you place any devices in a wipeable cover and disinfect them regularly with 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes or a spray disinfectant. Be sure to wipe the exterior of the device completely and dry it off. Wash your hands after cleaning your device.

Learn more about the CDC's guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting your home

Can I go outside?

Yes! As long as you are not at high risk, it’s possible to spend time outdoors as long as you maintain physical distance from other people. Going to the mall is out of the question, but you can still take your dog for a walk, go to a park or head out for a run. These are all great ways to keep your spirits high and get your steps in! If you want to go to a park, check first to make sure it’s open, as public park hours may have been adjusted. Also remember that many facilities in parks, such as restrooms, may be closed to the general public. It’s important to maintain your mental (and physical) health during this time, and exercise is a great way to beat those stay-at-home blues!

Learn more about dealing with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak