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Should I order takeout? Is it safe to grocery shop? Your coronavirus questions answered

Do you have questions about COVID-19? Ask us on social media, email newstips@krem.com or text FACTS to 509-448-2000.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Many questions have been raised lately amid news that the 2019 novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, is spreading worldwide, with hundreds of thousand of cases. 

KREM viewers have expressed their concerns about shopping at grocery stores and eating takeout as restaurants are closed in Washington state, among other topics. 

In an effort to help ease fears that can be caused by the spread of misinformation, KREM has set out to answer some of your commonly asked questions about coronavirus. 

Q: Is it safe to order from restaurants through GrubHubDoordashetc.?

A: Your food is likely going to be completely safe, according to Stephen Morse with Columbia University. Cooked foods are not a concern, unless someone sneezes on your food. The danger is your interaction with the delivery person, so see if they can leave the food outside (and leave a tip outside or electronically). You should also wash your hands after opening food containers and bags. 

Q: Is it safe to go grocery shopping?

A: Consumer Reports recommends people stay 6 feet away from other shoppers and wipe down a cart before and after use. Shoppers can also choose to go to the store when it’s less busy. An easy way to find out when a store has the highest foot traffic is by typing in the stores and location into a Google search.

Customers should also use a credit or debit card at the register to avoid exchanging money.

Q: Should you purchase fruits and vegetables? 

A: Assume every fruit and vegetable has been touched by another person. Research of an earlier coronavirus said it could survive for several days on surfaces of some strawberries and lettuces, so rinse each one thoroughly. Do not use soap.

Q: Are play dates OK?

A: You're better off not scheduling play dates at this time. Kids can't maintain a social distance of 6 feet. If your kids have siblings, they are of course safe to play with them. When it comes to socializing you're better off calling friends on FaceTime or Skype. 

Q: Should I still use public transportation?

A: The Spokane Transit Authority announced on Wednesday that all public seating and waiting areas inside the STA Plaza, except the Paratransit waiting area, are now closed. 

In late February, STA updated its vehicle cleaning procedures to include daily disinfecting of all buses and facilities. 

Employees have also been made aware of personal protection equipment available to them through various departments. 

Buses also have recorded announcements and posters in buses reminding people how to help stop the spread of illness. One of those reminders is covering coughs and sneezes.

Can coronavirus be spread through water systems?

There has not been a case connected to direct transmission by any water supply to date.

The City of Coeur d’Alene said on Thursday that its public water system routinely provides high quality and safe water through normal disinfection practices.

Chlorine is a proven disinfection method against viruses and the City Water Department utilizes sodium hypochlorite (liquid chlorine) in its water production process year-round. The Water Department maintains a .2 milligram per liter residual throughout the system at all times.

According to Terry Pickel, Water Department Director for the city, the ten operational wells serving the city are monitored and physically checked seven days a week to ensure proper operation and optimal disinfection processes are supported. Staff check residual chlorine levels daily and treatment information is supplied to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on a monthly basis as they review operations to ensure the city is operating under strict drinking water guidelines.

Q: Does smoking or vaping increase your likelihood of getting sick with the coronavirus?

A: The link hasn't yet been studied, but experts say there's every reason to believe smokers are at risk of more severe illnesses than non-smokers. 

"In a nutshell, immune protection in the airways and lungs is compromised in smokers, with a marked increase in inflammation and less ability to prevent passage of particles into the lungs themselves. So - now might be a good time to consider quitting whether one is a smoker or a vapor," according to Claire Wheeler, an assistant professor at PSU/OHSU's School of Public Health.

Q: How long does the sanitizing effect of hand sanitizer last?  

A: If you are required to apply hand sanitizer at your job, you should be doing it about once per hour. If you insist on using it, remember it can easily wear off the second you touch an infected surface. It starts working within 30 seconds to 1 minute, but remember: you're always better off washing your hands than sanitizing. 

RELATED: Dry Fly Distilling sanitizing spray could be available by Thursday

Q: How do you take care of yourself best if you get it?

A: You'll experience fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath if you have coronavirus. You should stay home, avoid public areas and stay away from other people. If your symptoms get worse, you should call your doctor's office, who will help you and alert your local health department. 

Some people who have tested positive, though, have not displayed symptoms. 

RELATED: How to treat yourself at home if you get coronavirus

Q: Can you get the flu or a cold and COVID-19 at the same time?

A: That’s entirely conceivable - depending on one’s level of public exposure. There is evidence that some morbidity and mortality that we’ve attributed to flu these past few months were actually COVID-related, not flu. Health officials are not aware of any documented cases of this happening, but with limited testing, they can’t be sure. Also, sick people are often being tested for flu first, and if that test is positive, they aren’t tested for COVID. The presumptive diagnosis is flu. So we aren’t collecting data on that question in any significant way at this time. 

RELATED: VERIFY: You can still get COVID-19 if you have the flu. Everyone needs to take the same precautions.

Q: Do I need a prescription to get a test and are there any drive-thru sites in the Spokane area? 

A: You can’t get a prescription for a test at this point. 

The Spokane Regional Health District is working with four major local health care providers to set up a drive-thru testing sight for the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at the Spokane County Fairgrounds.

According to SRHD spokesperson Kelli Hawkins, the test site is scheduled to open Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will be open daily. People are encouraged to visit a doctor via phone or virtually if you are experiencing symptoms.

RELATED: Spokane health leaders setting up drive-thru COVID-19 test site

Q: Would having pneumonia shots help the elderly from the respiratory effects of the virus? 

A: According to the World Health Organization, vaccines against pneumonia do not provide protection against the coronavirus. The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Although these vaccines are not effective against coronavirus, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health. 

SCHOOLS

Q: How can kids pick up food while they are out of school?

A:  Spokane Public Schools is beginning its grab-and-go meal service on Thursday. The meals include breakfast and lunch. 

Meals can be picked up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at these locations: 

  • Arlington
  • Balboa
  • Finch
  • Garfield
  • Hutton
  • Lidgerwood
  • Lincoln Heights
  • Longfellow
  • Moran Prairie
  • Mullan Road
  • Ridgeview
  • Roosevelt
  • Shaw MS
  • Rogers HS
  • Shadle Park HS
  • Ferris HS
  • Grant
  • Holmes
  • Logan
  • Sheridan
  • Stevens

RELATED: Here's where Spokane students can pick up meals during closures

Q: If kids are in the lowest risk group, why are schools being closed?  

A: Although they are in the lower risk group, many of the people they interact with at school (teachers, substitute teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers) are over 60 and should be in isolation. School is also closed to keep social interactions at a bare minimum and therefore help "flatten the curve" of the spread of coronavirus. 

FINANCES

Q: Will Washington create a rent or utilities freeze? 

A: Washington Governor Jay Inslee ordered the moratorium on Wednesday as the fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak threatens to seriously damage the global economy.

For the next 30 days, landlords cannot evict tenants because of a failure to pay rent. They also can't issue "no-cause" or "20-day" notices to month-to-month tenants unless there is evidence of a threat to health or safety.

Avista is stopping utility shut-offs in Washington, Idaho and Oregon during the outbreak. 

RELATED: Avista will stop utility cut offs in Washington, Idaho and Oregon amid coronavirus concerns

Q: What should I do with my 401K?

A: Stay the course. It's tempting to sell and to hide, but the problem is, when you start feeling better, the economy and the stock market is already likely to have recovered significantly. Interestingly enough, if you miss just the 10 best days in the stock market over the last 40 years, your returns were cut in half.

Q: If it's a good time to buy stocks, what should I buy?

A: A lot of great stocks right now that are down big if you buy individual stocks, but pretty much everything across the board, unless you’re investing in treasuries right now or gold... now's a good time to buy because everything's on sale.

RELATED: Wall Street swings up and down as volatility retains grip

Do you have questions about COVID-19? Ask us on social media, email newstips@krem.com or text FACTS to 509-448-2000.