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Ask Me Anything with Dr. Vinita Dubey: Top 10 most frequently asked questions

Last Updated Oct 18, 2020 at 12:15 pm EDT

Since the early days of the pandemic, we’ve been working to get you answers about COVID-19, giving you direct access to Toronto’s Associate Medical Officer of Health on a weekly basis.

Over the past few months Dr. Vinita Dubey has answered hundreds of listener and viewer submitted questions, delving into the nature of COVID-19, how it spreads, public health precautions, government policies, vaccine development and more.

Here are the top 10 most frequently asked questions from our public health ‘Ask Me Anything’ series with Dr. Dubey so far.

Do I need to sanitize my groceries?

Toronto Public Health suggests taking all regular precautions with produce — wash thoroughly before consuming and ensure hygienic cooking methods.

When it comes to plastics and packaging, wiping them down with a sanitizer is not necessary — the virus can live on smooth surfaces like plastic for up to 72 hours and up to 24 hours on cardboard. It is more important to wash your hands after handling such packaging and ensuring you don’t touch your face.

Is takeout food safe to eat during this pandemic?

To date, there have been no cases of COVID-19 recorded from eating food.

When it comes to takeout food, the province has strict food regulations — restaurants are required to follow them and public health inspects those restaurants regularly — so rest assured the food you order is handled in a safe way.

In the very rare likelihood that COVID-19 is present in the food, your stomach acids will destroy the virus and you will not get infected via food.

However, be mindful of the containers — ideally remove the food into a bowl or plate to reheat it and discard the containers. Make sure you clean any surfaces you placed the containers on and wash your hands thoroughly after handling them.

Can I get COVID-19 more than once?

Yes, you probably can.

There have been case reports of people who have had the virus being reinfected a second time.

In such reports, the virus was sequenced and its DNA fingerprint was recorded. When the person once again began showing symptoms, the virus was sequenced again and the fingerprint recorded was slightly different.

The viruses in the two instances cannot necessarily be called different strains since they were not distinct enough to infect the person differently or elicit a different immune response.

That is not to say that entirely different strains of the virus that causes COVID-19 do not or cannot exist, but so far they have not been recorded.

The frequency of reinfection and circumstances under which it may occur is also not clear at this time.

Where can I go to get tested for COVID-19 anti-bodies to find out if I had the virus?

Currently, you cannot get a publicly funded test for COVID-19 anti-bodies unless you meet very specific criteria and are asked to get tested.

There are some private labs conducting tests and you can pay to get an antibody test.

However, the results are not of much use other than to satisfy your curiosity. If antibodies are found, there is no evidence to suggest you are now immune to the virus, so there will be no further peace of mind. Further, currently there is no system in place to donate antibodies for plasma trials so you will not be able to help others either.

Explain the difference between interactions inside one’s social bubble vs. outside it.

Your social bubble is meant to include your household and perhaps a few extended family members like grandparents or even very close friends, up to 10 people.

Note that if you add friends, anyone in their household or people they have regular close contact with is considered part of your bubble and is counted in your circle of 10.

Within this bubble, you do not need to maintain physical distance or wear masks and you can hug and touch. The 10 people in the bubble can only be part of a single bubble – no double bubbles!

Outside the social bubble, in schools, restaurants, on transit and any other public places, public health recommends you keep a physical distance of six feet from others and wear a mask whenever indoors. Hugging or touching others outside your bubble is not recommended.

Recently, Dr. Vinita Dubey has suggested wearing a mask in certain outdoor settings as well, especially if you cannot maintain an adequate distance from others.

Are masks harmful and do they lead to health or dental problems?

There is no evidence to suggest the use of masks leads to health problems.

The most common ones that are brought up include an increase in carbon dioxide inhalation, suppression of the immune system or reduced oxygen levels — there is no evidence that points to these issues. There is also no known link between mask usage and dental or gum disease.

Medical professionals have been wearing masks for several decades with no recorded detrimental effects to their health or immune system.

Wearing a soiled mask or sharing masks with others could possibly lead to getting sick, but that is not how masks should be used. Cloth masks should be washed after every use, disposable ones must be thrown out after using them for a day and masks should not be shared.

The mask bylaw does include exemptions for those who cannot tolerate a mask, including those with serious breathing disorders like severe asthma or COPD. But note, a face shield is not an adequate replacement for a mask as it leaves your mouth and nose exposed.

Can I catch COVID-19 through mosquitoes, sweat or through a cut on the body?

Mosquitoes do not spread COVID-19 and current evidence shows that the virus does not spread through the sweat of an infected person. If you have a cut on your body and it comes in contact with a droplet or a surface that contains the virus, you cannot be infected via that route either.

The virus is mainly spread through respiratory droplets — if someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes on you or is speaking loudly or singing in your vicinity and those droplets enter your eyes, nose or mouth, you are likely to get infected.

Contaminated surfaces can also cause the virus to spread — if you touch the surface with your hands and then touch your face, you could catch the virus.

Is the virus that causes COVID-19 airborne?

Respiratory droplets, through which the virus spreads, are not considered airborne — they are heavy enough to fall to the ground or on surfaces and do not linger in the air.

However, in some circumstances where droplets become aerosolized and turn into very fine particles, there is a chance of airborne transmission because these fine droplets can stay suspended in the air longer.

Most often, such aerosols are generated during medical procedures like intubation or suctioning the throat.

However, it is unclear how long these aerosolized particles stay in the air. Viruses like measles or chicken pox can live for up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed. However, currently this does not seem to be the case with COVID-19, although more study is needed in this matter.

The possibility of airborne transmission is also affected by other factors like ventilation, whether you’re outdoors or indoors and wearing a mask or not.

Do I have to complete 14 days of quarantine after travel if my COVID-19 test comes back negative before the two week period is complete?

Yes, you must complete the full 14 days of quarantine.

It is not recommended that you get tested after travelling if you are not showing any symptoms. Testing is now being recommended only for those who are showing symptoms or may have been in contact with an infected person.

If you do get tested, the test results are only good for the day of testing and you may develop symptoms several days later.

If for example, you get tested on day two of your return and the result was negative, you still have 12 days to go, during which time you may be incubating the virus, could develop symptoms and become contagious.

Fourteen days is the period required because that is how long it usually takes to start showing symptoms after infection takes place.

Can COVID-19 spread through HVAC/ventilation systems in buildings?

There is no current evidence to suggest that droplets containing the virus spread through the heating and ventilation systems in a building and there have been no cases definitely linked to this.

It is recommended that the systems be set up to conduct as many air exchanges as possible so that fresh air can be circulated as often as possible. By doing this, if there are droplets in the air, they are diluted or removed entirely and if there is any possibility of them spreading from room to room, it is significantly reduced.

Submit your questions to our latest Q&A session: Ask Me Anything with Dr. Vinita Dubey