The novel coronavirus has been designated COVID-19. CDC

Ever since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Hawaii in early March, Civil Beat has been answering a wide variety of questions from readers about the virus, efforts to contain and what new emergency orders from state and local officials mean for your daily life — everything from “Can my pet get coronavirus?” to  “Is it okay to travel to neighbor islands?” We’ve compiled a full archive of your questions and our answers below.
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What is the Coronavirus

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The Centers for Disease Control’s website is a great resources for information on how to lower your risk of infection and help slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Centers for Disease Control

Where can I get the latest numbers on global COVID-19 infections and deaths?

This Johns Hopkins University tracker is a great resource. More than 119,000 people have been infected around the world as of March 11, prompting the World Health Organization to officially proclaim it a pandemic.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

How is the virus spread and how long does the virus live in the air and on surfaces?

There is much still being researched, but COVID-19 is believed to spread via droplets, such as coughing or sneezing. Exposure is defined by health authorities as close, personal face-to-face contact within six feet for durations of 10 minutes or more. The virus can incubate in someone for anywhere from two to 14 days, so people, including children, can be infectious before they show symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Your risk of catching it largely depends on how much you touch your face, so experts recommend refraining from touching your face and washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It’s also possible to pick up the virus from contaminated surfaces, where it can live for hours or even days, although health officials say that route of transmission is less common.

A new study shows that the virus can be detected in the air as many as three hours later. On copper, it lasted four hours, and on cardboard, it lasted one day. Plastic and stainless steel held the virus for as many as two or three days.

The study was conducted by National Institutes of Health, Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, with funding from the U.S. government and the National Science Foundation.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

How does COVID-19 compare to the flu?

As the outbreak has evolved since December 2019, scientists have been able to gather more information about the contagious nature of COVID-19 compared to the flu. On average, about 1.3 people will be infected by one individual with the flu. By comparison, 2 to 2.5 people could be infected by one individual ill with the coronavirus.

Keep in mind we may never know the true number of folks infected, since some may not be symptomatic or hospitalized, which can artificially inflate the fatality rate.

The flu’s incubation time from exposure to first symptoms range from one to 14 days, whereas COVID-19 can appear as much as two weeks after exposure.

Current hospitalization rates for COVID-19 are also higher than the flu.

The exact death rate is still unclear, but COVID-19 appears to kill a larger proportion of infected people than the flu, and it can be especially harmful to people over 80 years old.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

How long can the virus stay on clothing (since it is suggested to sneeze/cough in your arm sleeve)?

It’s more likely that the virus will survive on hard surfaces rather than clothing, according to Harvard Health. But towels and clothes can spread and harbor germs. Wash them regularly in warm or hot water. Handling clothes properly is most important for caregivers of those who are ill. The CDC recommends wearing gloves when handling dirty clothes, using the warmest water settings appropriate, and washing your hands again after removing gloves.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Can this coronavirus mutate?

Yes. The MIT Technology Review reports that genes, including those part of viruses, naturally mutate. COVID-19 appears to mutate a little slower than influenza, though. Researchers continue to look into it, as well as a possible vaccine.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

If I have COVID-19, will I infect my pets?

While coronaviruses are a family of viruses that sometimes infect animals and can become able to infect people as COVID-19 has done, the CDC says there is currently no evidence that pets or other companion animals can spread COVID-19.

“Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low,” according to the CDC. “We are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations.”

Feel free to snuggle up with your support animal during self-quarantine.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Does Hawaii’s humidity prevent the transmission of COVID-19?

Not necessarily. The World Health Organization says the virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates.

Regardless of the weather outside, health experts maintain the best way to protect yourself is by washing your hands frequently and disinfecting the items you use most.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Impact on Hawaii

How many tests has Hawaii actually conducted?

Private laboratories and hospitals across the state are offering testing with a physician’s referral. There are various testing locations across all islands.

State Microbiologist Mark Nagata gives a demonstration of extracting Nucleic acid at the Department of Health, Public Health and Environmental Laboratories located at Waimano Home Road.
State Microbiologist Mark Nagata gives a demonstration of COVID-19 testing from a mock specimen at the Hawaii State Laboratories Division. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Find the latest testing figures provided daily on the state Department of Health website.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Why aren’t we testing those with mild to moderate symptoms? We know that asymptomatic people can spread the novel coronavirus.

Efforts to test in the U.S. were delayed by errors in U.S. testing kit development, among other issues.

Health officials say outbreaks can become so widespread that it is important to conserve testing resources for health care workers on the frontlines and those who are severely ill so we can be sure to know who is at risk for infecting others. In areas that have significant outbreaks, federal authorities say testing should be reserved for health care workers and hospital patients.

The Hawaii Department of Health has directed anyone who is feeling ill to stay home to recover and self-isolate, with the intent to prevent those people from spreading the disease. Those who are healthy or have mild symptoms are expected to recover at home in isolation. The more people who frequent testing areas, the more chance it could be transmitted. What health officials do not want is someone who has mild symptoms, thinking it’s COVID-19 but it’s actually just the flu, to expose themselves: just the act of going to a testing site could put them at a higher risk for actually contracting COVID-19.

Researchers are still looking into how infectious asymptomatic people are, but state health officials say symptomatic people are most likely to pass the infection on to someone else.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

I know you said I need a physician referral, but where can I get screened?

The state health department has published a list of all screening sites, but you should review the following DOH guidance before making the trip:

  • First, contact your healthcare provider in advance to determine if you need to have an in-person visit with your provider. Your provider will determine over the phone whether you meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing.
  • If your provider directs you to come in for a screening, bring a photo ID and insurance card.
  • Your provider will take a swab for testing. The specimen will be sent to a private or state lab for the results. During this time, you are expected to self-quarantine at home until the test results are available, which could be up to 3 to 4 days.
  • If you are healthy or experiencing mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, DOH urges you to stay at home and avoid an unnecessary visit to a screening site. The screening sites are only for those who are severely ill with COVID-19 symptoms.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Can you give us any good news?

Each of us has the power to “cut a link” in the chain of transmission, Siobhan Roberts writes in the New York Times.

Updated: March 21, 2020

How are Hawaii hospitals preparing?

Past training for outbreaks such as Ebola have Hawaii hospitals equipped to deal with infectious diseases like the new coronavirus. Hospitals gathered backup emergency supplies and can tap into more provided by the Hawaii Healthcare Emergency Management coalition or use funds from the federal Hospital Preparedness Program, according to Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

The state may also tap federal resources such as medical personnel and equipment if necessary.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Is Hawaii going to receive help from the federal government?

On March 11, the federal government approved $4.5 million in emergency funds for Hawaii for coronavirus-related crisis spending. Negotiations over the next congressional pandemic relief bill began in late July.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

How many people will become infected in Hawaii?

State officials are hesitant to predict the total, but say they expect the number of reported cases to rise in the future.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Is it OK to travel to neighbor islands? What about the mainland?

Hawaii currently has a 14-day mandatory travel quarantine in place for inter-island travel. For travel outside of Hawaii, check this website daily for the latest travel advisories from the CDC, as they continue to change. If you are sick, do not get on a plane. Most airlines are offering waived change fees during this international crisis.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Why aren’t we banning cruise ship arrivals?

According to Gov. David Ige, Hawaii state government does not have the authority to ban cruise ships. That decision lies with the federal government and the U.S. Coast Guard. All ships from China have been banned at this point, but other cruises have continued as planned, despite new warnings from federal authorities.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. State Department discouraged Americans from traveling by cruise, especially if they’re elderly and have underlying health conditions.

“Like many other viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” the CDC said in one travel advisory update.  

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Why are the airlines continuing to offer low rates, luring people to believe a trip to Hawaii may be a good thing?

As The Economist puts it, the airline industry is getting “clobbered.” Airlines are asking for $50 billion in federal aid.

Daniel K Inouye International Airport group arrival area is empty. Usually at 10am, there are many Japanese visitors coming thru this area.
Daniel K Inouye International Airport group arrival area is empty. Usually at 10am, there are many Japanese visitors coming thru this area. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Paying passengers to cover the costs of operating the fleet. This includes paying pilots and flight attendants and paying for fuel.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Are visitors or residents bringing COVID-19 to Hawaii? When the Hawaii Department of Health says “travel-related,” what does that mean?

“Travel related” coronavirus cases signifies either that the patient traveled somewhere outside of Hawaii and was diagnosed upon return to the islands, or the patient was infected by a close contact who traveled and presumably became infected elsewhere. Technically, if a visitor were to be diagnosed after leaving Hawaii, their case would not be included in the state count.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Who is exempt from the stay-at-home rule?

You’re still allowed to buy groceries, go to court in some cases, travel to work, exercise and walk your pet, among other things.

If you do any of the following work, your job is considered essential and you are exempt from the stay-at-home mandate:

Healthcare facilities, grocery stores, pharmacies, schools, food service establishments, cannabis producers, organizations that provide charitable services such as food banks, media, gas stations, banks, hardware stores, shipping companies, post offices, laundromats, business supply stores, transportation companies, home based care services, elderly homes, child care services, labor unions, hotels, mortuaries, government functions, construction, plumbers, electricians, janitors, movers, engineers, legal and accounting firms and insurance companies. —Office of the Governor, State of Hawaii

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Do we really just give up our freedoms?

According to the Hawaii DOH, it is crucial for people who are sick or recently traveled to self-isolate for two weeks.

Even during stay-at-home orders, people are still free to leave for essential errands to the bank, doctor, pharmacy, and grocery store.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

What Can I Do?

Jay Nordyke holds his shirt over his face wil standing in line with his dad, Thomas Nordyke in the parking lot of Sams Club. The lines snaked from the entrance all the way to the far side of the parking lot.
Jay Nordyke holds his shirt over his face wil standing in line with his dad, Thomas Nordyke in the parking lot of Sams Club. The lines snaked from the entrance all the way to the far side of the parking lot. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020
How long do you think we’ll have to keep up this social distancing thing?

It could be months or years. Government officials are recommending people limit their social activity because it’s the best chance we have to prevent transmission of the coronavirus and overwhelming hospitals, especially because there is no treatment yet.

Here are some ways to ensure you’re implementing “social distancing” properly.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Should I curtail babysitting school-aged grandchildren?

Because children may be infected without showing symptoms, you may want to consider limiting your interactions with them, unfortunately.

If you are older and you have chronic health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or lung disease, you are at a high risk and should keep your distance. If your family is able to, looking into alternatives for child care is likely the safest option, according to Harvard Health.”

Updated: Aug. 21,  2020

Would a dip in a properly chlorinated pool kill this virus on the skin?

Harvard University researchers say the virus won’t survive in properly treated pool water. So feel free to head to the pool, but avoid close contact with other people.

Regarding the ocean, there is little information about COVID-19’s ability to survive in salt water, according to the Surfrider Foundation. Sand and ocean water are known to harbor a lot of bacteria, but you’d most likely be at higher risk for catching COVID-19 if you interact with other infected beachgoers.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

Is it OK to take ibuprofen?

Infectious disease experts at the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control say it is fine to take ibuprofen and there is no evidence that suggests otherwise. The concern over ibuprofen exploded after the French health minister tweeted some advice to use Tylenol instead, but public health officials were disapproving of his move which was based on limited data, NPR reports.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, more research is needed.

“Currently, there is no evidence that ibuprofen increases the risk of serious complications or of acquiring the virus that causes COVID-19,” he said.

Both paracetamol and ibuprofen help to relieve fevers and flu symptoms, but they may not be suitable for all patients depending on existing health conditions. Ask your doctor.

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020

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