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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Q&A

All About Coronavirus

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is an illness that was first identified in humans in December 2019. It is part of the coronavirus family, which includes the common cold and less common illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). On March 11, 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. 

COVID-19 is mainly spread person-to-person through airborne respiratory droplets like saliva and mucus, and can be transmitted from surfaces where droplets may be present.

COVID-19 causes mild illness more frequently than severe illness. Individuals with the disease may experience a wide range of symptoms, including: cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; fever; chills; muscle pain; and sore throat. See the CDC website for a full list of symptoms.

Based on the information that’s currently available, older adults and individuals of any age who have underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19. The CDC provides additional information about those who might be at higher risk.

Currently, there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through food packaging or through the opening of packages or the mail.

After you touch an object such as a package or your mail, wash your hands before you touch your face. It may be possible for a person to get infected by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching their face and getting the virus into their mouth, nose, or eyes. However, that is thought to be a much less common mode of transmission.

The major route of transmission is thought to be through respiratory droplets. What that means is a person who has the infection will cough or sneeze or talk, droplets will come out of their mouth or nose and they will travel no more than six feet. But they can get inhaled by an uninfected person through either their mouth or nose and are able to establish an infection.

There is some overlap between the symptoms of allergies and COVID-19. The most important thing to realize that if this is your allergy season, you're having your typical allergy symptoms, and if it's responding to your usual allergy medications, it's probably your allergies.

COVID-19 usually comes with a high fever, cough, and body aches. You don't typically see high fever and body aches in allergies, and allergies usually have sneezing and a clear runny nose which are not typically seen with COVID-19.

To be safe, we recommend that if you feel that your allergies are not quite the same this year (there are some body aches with them, a low-grade fever, shortness of breath that you haven’t had before), you seek the advice of your doctor.

Staying Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic

To reduce your chances of contracting or spreading the virus, support your general health and practice good hygiene:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. And when you are sick, stay home.
  • Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
  • Get your flu vaccine–it’s not too late.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough and immediately throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Avoid touching surfaces.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

In this video, COVID-19: Protecting Your Family by Dr. Dave Price, a critical care physician provides basic facts about the disease and what people can do to stay safe and protect themselves and their loved ones. Dr. Price is on the front lines of treating COVID-19 patients in New York City.

It is important to wash your hands frequently. You should wash your hands immediately after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, using the bathroom or touching surfaces in a public space. Wash your hands before eating or preparing food and before touching your face. The proper way to wash your hands is:

  • Wet your hands with clean, warm, running water.
  • Rub your hands together with soap – including the fronts and backs of hands, between all fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands under clean, running water and dry them.

"Social distancing" means not interacting with anyone outside your household, and limiting trips to places where you might interact with other people. Minimizing contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

It is strongly recommended that you only leave your home for essential travel (to work, if your job is essential, and to the grocery store or pharmacy if you must). If you can, the CDC recommends keeping a two-week supply of medications, food and other essentials on hand. Learn more about social distancing, quarantine, and isolation from the CDC and on Monroe County’s Six Feet Saves Lives website.

As noted on our How You Can Help page, the American Red Cross is facing a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations throughout the U.S.

While it is important that we all practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, the need for a healthy and robust blood supply remains constant and is critical to providing life-saving care to our patients every day. Schedule an appointment to donate at an upcoming blood drive in your neighborhood/community/area at or by calling 1-800-733-2767.

Managing and Treating Coronavirus

Use the ROC COVID-19 health screener before visiting your doctor, Urgent Care, or Emergency Department. 

UR Medicine patients who are experiencing symptoms—a fever and upper respiratory issues like a cough and shortness of breath—can use the MyChart patient portal to email members of their care team directly from their smartphone or computer. Alternatively, they can call their primary care, family medicine or pediatric practice, where UR Medicine nurses are prepared to screen potential COVID-19 patients.

If you do not have a primary care provider, please call the Monroe County Health Department at (585) 753-5555.

If you aren’t sick but have questions about COVID-19 please visit the CDC website or call the New York State hotline at 1-888-364-3065.

Read UR Medicine’s fact sheet about who needs to be tested, and how to contact your health care provider, or other health resources, if you have concerns.

There are currently no FDA-approved treatments for COVID-19. The FDA is working with the pharmaceutical and biotech industry and academic researchers to expedite the development of COVID-19 treatments. 
URMC researchers are experts in the field of infectious diseases and are on the front lines of the national response to COVID-19. This includes research to better understand the disease and participation in clinical trials for new treatments and preventative measures, such as vaccines. Sign up for our research registry to be alerted of new opportunities to participate in health research (you can now select COVID-19/Coronavirus as an area of research interest).

There is no clear evidence that taking ibuprofen worsens your outcomes with COVID-19. However, to be prudent, use acetaminophen or Tylenol to control your symptoms.

The concern regarding ibuprofen came out of a few cases in Europe, where they believe those individuals did worse because they were on ibuprofen. That's not clear as these studies were purely based on observation.

Drugs like ibuprofen, non-steroidal drugs, have some problems associated with them. They can increase kidney problems, blood pressure, blood clots, and the risk for ulcers and stomach irritation. As a result, those drugs, in general, should be avoided. Using something like acetaminophen instead to control body aches and fever would be safer.

Plasma is the fluid that carries all parts of the blood – white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets – throughout the body. It also takes nutrients, hormones and proteins to parts of the body that need it.

Plasma contains many other important components, like antibodies. Antibodies help your body fight infections. People who have recovered from the disease have COVID-19 antibodies in their plasma and may be able to help others with coronavirus by donating their plasma. Learn more about donating COVID-19 plasma.

Staying Healthy in the Time of Coronavirus

As the pandemic started we postponed all elective surgeries and routine medical visits to reinforce social distancing and to reduce exposure to one another. We've done great here in Rochester, but we are finding as we have put off people's routine medical care, people with medical problems are becoming reluctant to get their medical care addressed, which is increasing the non-COVID-related complications. Problems such as diabetes, hypertension, lung disease, heart disease, and multiple other medical problems are not as well-controlled because they are not being evaluated.

We're not recommending you go into your doctor's office unless your doctor feels it's necessary. However, if your doctor feels that you need to come in to be seen, know that you will be protected. Doctor's offices are very secure and following very strict protocols, not only to reduce the risk that you get sick, but we need to protect ourselves and our staff. If your medical conditions are not well-controlled, that's not only a problem long-term, that's a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While we understand people’s fear of coronavirus, we want to make sure that that fear doesn't supersede the need to seek out medical care, including coming to the emergency department or our urgent cares. People are still going to have heart attacks, strokes, traumas, illnesses, and other life-threatening issues. We need to make sure that we are maintaining our operations to take care of all of our community, whether a patient has coronavirus or not. Throughout all of this, we've been able to do that, and moving forward we will still be able to do that.

The emergency department is still the place to go if you're worried about having a medical emergency or a life-threatening illness. We've taken some measures to keep both our staff and patients safe. You may be asked to wear a mask when you come to the emergency department, both yourself and any visitor. You'll also see a lot of our staff in different types of personal protective equipment, from masks to goggles to face shields. What we really don't want is someone to be at home having a life-threatening emergency and then not seek out medical care because of fear of coming to the emergency department.

In some cases, yes. Our telemedicine services offer patients an opportunity to see our primary care, urgent care, and specialist providers virtually. To learn if telemedicine is an option for you, please log in to MyChart or call your provider's office directly. If you don’t have an account, we encourage you to sign up for a MyChart account.

First and foremost, we know that children over two, when out and about, really need to be wearing masks. However, if you're in your own yard and they're playing by themselves or only with members of the household, it's fine for them to not be wearing a mask.

It is a great idea to practice wearing masks well before you take any trips outside of the house, especially for the younger children because they can be a little uncomfortable at first and it's new. And so, four, five, even six-year-olds need a little practice with them.

If you're going to be going out for walks in parks or places where you might run into other people, you need to have the masks with you. Because if you do encounter a large group, you need to put the masks on.

If you cannot ensure physical distancing, everyone in your family needs to be wearing a mask.

The first thing to know is, anxiety is actually really healthy. Anxiety sets us on alert. In this case it will help us wash our hands regularly.

Too much anxiety of course, can be troubling. So if we have much to be anxious about, don't fight it. Take a few minutes during the day and say, "What are the things that I am anxious about and what can I do about them?" Then let them flow out. Because clearly, we're not going to do something that's going to make COVID go away, but we can let the anxiety flow out of us and begin to focus our attention on things that really need our attention.

Eric D. Caine, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at UR Medicine, joined WXXI’s Connections with Evan Dawson to offer advice on how to help alleviate loneliness related the impact of COVID-19.

Your Questions. Our Answers.

No, the Pentagon has not done a study of the effects of flu vaccines on susceptibility to COVID-19. This false story was released in mid-April by the Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group. There is no evidence that the flu vaccine can put you at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and it’s more important this year than ever before to get the flu vaccine. Widespread flu vaccination may reduce hospitalizations for flu infections, which will free up beds and allow health care workers to focus their efforts on COVID-19 patients. 

While certain forms of zinc may be important for immune responses to pathogens, it is entirely unknown whether oral zinc supplementation would have any antiviral activity against the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, and it would certainly not be safe to test this by ingesting calamine lotion.

Zinc is an essential trace element that is necessary for human health and must be consumed regularly through a healthy diet (in red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, some seafood, whole grains, etc.). Zinc is important for normal growth and development as well as immune responses to pathogens and studies have shown that populations that are deficient in zinc are at risk of viral infections such as HIV or hepatitis C.

Clinical studies have yielded mixed results on whether oral zinc supplements (like those found at the grocery store or pharmacy) can improve the clinical outcome of a viral infection. These studies have used a wide range of doses and formulations (i.e. zinc aspartate, zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate) but none has ever used zinc oxide, which is an ingredient in the over-the-counter anti-itch cream calamine lotion, or pyrithione zinc, an antimicrobial compound found in shampoos and face creams.

Calamine lotion and beauty products containing pyrithione zinc are only intended for topical application and should NOT be swallowed. In case of accidental ingestion, you should seek medical assistance or contact a Poison Control Center immediately.

Witch hazel is not an disinfectant and there is insufficient evidence that it kills bacteria or viruses. The best practice to prevent infection from coronavirus or other germs is follow the CDC guidelines and wash hands frequently using soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer. 

There is not enough evidence to suggest that any particular type of diet protects against getting the coronavirus. However, there is evidence that poor metabolic health is more common among people hospitalized with coronavirus. Being obese, having high blood pressure, or having diabetes has been associated with coronavirus hospitalizations.

Because nutrition can affect these risk factors, it is reasonable to think that healthy nutrition may reduce risk of severe complications, but this has not been adequately studied. While a keto diet offers short-term improvements in weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar, there is greater evidence that long-term metabolic health is better achieved with an unrefined, plant-based diet made up mostly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, potatoes and beans and strictly limited in added fats and sugars. 

Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of marijuana and hemp seed oil, has anti-inflammatory properties and may be helpful in cases of severe inflammatory response. There is new research suggesting that CBD can also change the levels of ACE2 receptors through which the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) enters cells. These studies suggest that hemp seed oil may be used in treatment or prevention of COVID-19, but this research is very new and no human studies have been done.

On the other hand, there is currently no data to suggest that hyaluronic acid can protect against COVID-19. In cases of severe COVID19, hyaluronic acid has been observed to fill the lungs as a part of the inflammatory response in overdrive. This may contribute to lung failure as hyaluronic acid retains water in the lungs.

The common cold is a major cause of visits to a doctor and time away from work and school. The common cold is usually caused by viruses, including other coronaviruses in the same family as COVID-19. Common cold symptoms typically include runny nose, congestion, sneezing, sore throat, cough, and sometimes headache, fever, chills and malaise.

Vitamin C has been proposed for treating respiratory infections caused by viruses since it was discovered in the 1930’s. Vitamin C is an efficient antioxidant and may be beneficial by protecting against oxidative stress caused by infections. The benefit of vitamin C supplementation however is still widely debated.

In a recent review of 29 trial comparisons involving 11,306 participants which sought to answer this question, three important findings were noted:

  1. In people who take vitamin C every day, there is a modest, consistent benefit in reducing the duration of common cold symptoms by 8% in adults and 14% in children. That may translate in a decrease in symptoms by 1-2 days once someone becomes infected.
  2. In a few studies of 598 participants exposed to short periods of extreme exercise (marathon runners and skiers) vitamin C decreased the risk of getting the common cold by half. However, vitamin C has not been shown to prevent ordinary people from getting the cold.
  3. Once someone has a virus causing a respiratory infection, using high doses of vitamin C as treatment is not effective in decreasing severity of symptoms. 

The conclusions we can draw from this study therefore is that if you regularly take vitamin C (i.e. daily) there may be a modest decrease is how many days you are ill from the common cold. But vitamin C cannot be used to prevent getting a viral infection or as treatment. This is likely also true for COVID-19; while we may not expect daily supplementation to prevent infection, it may reduce the duration of symptoms in persons with mild or moderate cases.  

In May 2020, the World Health Organization issued a statement that tobacco smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop more severe cases of COVID-19. Patients who smoke are more likely to develop serious symptoms of COVID-19, be admitted to an ICU, need mechanical ventilation, and die. COVID-19 is a disease that attacks the lungs and risk is increased in people who have underlying conditions like heart disease. Smoking (and e-cigarette use/vaping) exposes users to chemicals and particles that damage lung tissue and affect the heart, both of which can put users at higher risk for COVID-19.

Claims of a protective effect of nicotine for coronavirus are currently unsubstantiated by the available data. Some people think nicotine could have a protective role and suggest possible ways this could happen in the body. The available evidence is largely based on several studies that showed that there were fewer smokers among hospitalized patients than would be expected based on the number of smokers in the population. However, there are other explanations for this observation:

  • Many health systems do not consistently assess whether patients smoke or vape;
  • Patients may be reluctant to admit to smoking or vaping or may be unable to communicate if they are very sick when admitted; 
  • Smokers may be more likely to die at home; and 
  • Since smokers are more likely to have underlying conditions like respiratory conditions or heart disease, they may be more likely to be confined at home so less exposed to the coronavirus.

If research does show any possible therapeutic role for nicotine in the future, it will be important to use FDA-approved forms of nicotine medication (for example, nicotine gum, patch, or lozenges) rather than cigarettes and e-cigarettes that can damage the lungs and other organs. Nicotine medications also have the advantage of being shown to be effective in helping people quit tobacco use completely.

Yes, Tylenol or acetaminophen are acceptable for reducing fever and body aches caused by COVID-19 infection.

There is no scientific evidence supporting the use of ephedrine sulphate to ease shortness of breath with COVID-19 or any other form of pneumonia. Ephedrine is an adrenergic agonist that was used in the past to treat asthma, but newer and safer medications are now available and it is no longer preferred. Ephedrine can cause a rapid and irregular heart rate, and should not be used in older patients.

There are no specific lung exercises that can help people recover from COVID-19 pneumonia. Hospitalized patients with lung disease or other conditions might benefit from the use of an incentive spirometer. This is a device that helps people take slow and sustained deep inhalations, which helps fully expand our lungs and prevent lung collapse, a condition called atelectasis. An incentive spirometer can help prevent atelectasis, which occurs in hospitalized patients who are usually lying in bed and not very active. For most other patients with pneumonia, there are no specific breathing exercises that help improve lung function. Patients with chronic lung disease like COPD can benefit from exercise in general as part of a structured pulmonary rehabilitation program.

The human gut microbiome, a community of microbes living in the gastrointestinal tract, has a profound influence on human health. The beneficial influences of the microbiome include nutrition and metabolism, regulation of the immune system, and protection from disease causing microbes.

Disruptions of the gut microbiome by viral infections has been shown to increase viral infectivity and severity associated with gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections. Probiotics, beneficial bacteria that restore the disrupted microbiome to a healthy state, are effective in treating viral infections possibly by enhancing the intestinal surface, protecting against microbe and viral infection and enhancing the immune response to respiratory tract infections.

Emerging evidence suggests a potential role of the gut microbiome in COVID-19 progression and severity. In fact, the microbiome may be at play in individuals who develop gastrointestinal symptoms and more severe disease. While development of effective drug therapies and vaccines is ongoing, probiotics may offer an alternative strategy for treatment of COVID-19 using a similar strategy that has been successful for other viral pathogens. However, more evidence is needed before recommending treatment of COVID-19 patients with probiotics to manage the gut microbiome.