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Your Coronavirus And COVID-19 Questions Answered

Madeleine King/IPR file
Handwashing is one of the most effective methods for stopping transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

We've received lots of questions about coronavirus, COVID-19, PPE, social distancing and what this means for us individually and for the economy. In fact, we've had many of the same questions as you. 

To help understand what we need to know, we've reached out to medical experts from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics about the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease. 

Here are some of your biggest questions, answered:

Coronavirus transmission and maintaining health

Why are there so many conflicting reports on survival of the virus on surfaces?
A recently published study shows the virus can exist on metal for hours, cardboard for one day, plastic for three days. That’s why handwashing is so important.

How long does coronavirus stay on outside surfaces?
There’s some variance. If you’re uncertain about who touched a surface, wash (or sanitize) your hands after you touch surfaces.

Do we know how many people in our communities might be asymptomatic?
We don’t know how many people who in our community are shedding the virus without exhibiting symptoms. That’s on the edge of our knowledge. But we know that some may go on to develop symptoms and some may not.
Should we be worried about bikers and other exercisers not practicing social distancing outside?
This virus is spread by droplets, from those coughing or sneezing, or those who’ve been in contact with other people who are sick. If you’re alone in nature, there’s no need to worry. But in parks where large numbers of people congregate, as people touch surfaces, or pass each other in close contact and sneeze or cough, that can spread the virus. That’s why it’s important that we’re washing our hands and not touching our faces so the droplets we may come in contact with don’t infect our mucous membranes.

What about groups of kids playing in close contact?
The modes of transmission for this virus start to connect our social networks. Those connections start to infect other social networks. All the families of those children are now connected and that’s why social distancing is important.

Do I need to wash my groceries?
If you’re concerned there’s contamination on the surface, you’re encouraged to clean the surface of those fruits and veggies. 

Is it safe to order takeout food?
Rely on restaurants that have told employees that if they’re symptomatic they stay home. Also places where you’re confident that they’re washing their hands. We need to communicate to our employers and those in essential services that they need to stay home if they’re sick so they don’t spread the virus.

How do I strengthen or maintain a strong immune system?
Reduce your stress. Exercise. Eat well. Walk outside, but keep your distance from others. Garden when it gets warm outside.

You should continue to socially isolate. Continue to stay home. Without a therapy (vaccine) for this virus, that’s what we can do to protect ourselves and to protect those who are vulnerable among us.

Symptoms & Managing COVID-19

Who is most at risk?
The most important risk factor for COVID-19 is age, no question. Children are generally not affected by the virus. Their symptoms are mild or they are asymptomatic. Middle aged people can get severe infections, but most will be okay. Older people and those with underlying disease, such as heart disease, or taking immunosuppressant drugs are at most risk for severe disease and symptoms.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 typically causes fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, a feeling like you have the flu, GI symptoms early on in the disease, and now we’re learning that a loss of sense of smell and taste can be an early indication of COVID-19.

What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?
If you think you're sick and can't breathe, go to the ER. If you're having symptoms, but not emergent, call your health care provider. Don’t go to the ER or doctor's office, that’s super important. We can't test everyone. We don't have the equipment and supplies to do it.

What’s the treatment for COVID-19?
There is no specific treatment for this disease. Most people can stay home, monitor their symptoms and check with a doctor if their symptoms change or increase in severity. A hospital can provide lung scans and ultrasounds for those having trouble breathing, as well as additional oxygen and breathing support when needed.

How long should I stay away from people if infected?
If diagnosed, stay isolated until you’ve had no fever for three days and are showing no other symptoms. In general, it’s usually a total of 14 days of isolation.
What will cause a patient to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)?
COVID-19 primarily affects lung function. Most people can allow their bodies to heal and fight the infection at home. But some need extra respiratory support.
A ventilator is a machine that's used to help people breathe when they can’t breathe on their own anymore. Patients come to ICU when they need more advanced support for their breathing, or when the infection causes them to have low blood pressure or organ failure and they need organ support.

Hospital & Healthcare Readiness

What have you been seeing at UIHC as far as COVID-19 cases?
At UIHC we have had patients who have been critically ill in the ICU, had patients not as sick and those who’ve been discharged and gone home. As of the week of March 27, about half of the visitors to UIHC’s emergency room were experiencing novel coronavirus symptoms or concerned about COVID-19.

Should we be increasing our testing capacity?
If we had the capacity to test everyone, we would do that. Right now providers are directing those resources to the people most at risk. This is a critical problem in the U.S. and we don’t have a way to test everyone at this time.

What are you preparing for?
Along with all Iowa hospitals, we’re preparing for an onslaught like we’ve seen in other parts of the country. We’re hopeful that with social distancing we’ll avoid that, but we're ramping up to prepare for those who need our services.

What is the situation with PPEs for healthcare providers in Iowa?
It's kind of a scary time for me and my colleagues, not just in Iowa but across the country. We’re all facing the same problem: not having enough equipment. When I worked my last shift, I wore one surgical mask for my entire shift and a face shield over that.

Right now our supply at UIHC is adequate to treat the patients we have. But, no one knows what’s coming. Right now we have adequate supplies, but we’ve implemented maximum conservation practices to prepare for a surge of cases to come. We have changed operations in our hospital to conserve what’s available and stretch supply as long as we can.

Do you have enough ventilators at UIHC?
Right now we expect that we do, but a lot of that depends on people’s actions to flatten the curve.

Can you move resources around? Are there ventilators in other areas that you can use for COVID-19 patients with most elective procedures being canceled or postponed?
We have ventilators we use in ICU every day. We’ve developed surge capacity. If the need for ventilators exceeds what we have in ICU, we can use backup ventilators and anesthesia machines for patients who might need it.

On April 3, the Iowa Board of Medicine recommended that Gov. Kim Reynolds issue a “shelter in place” or “stay at home” order. Do you agree?
I think that from the perspective of health care, we recognize that the ability to stay home is critical. We’re preparing for a surge of those who need care, and it really depends on the ability of everyone to do their part to stop the spread.

To what extent is telemedicine being used?
Here at UIHC we have a telemedicine clinic seeing patients remotely. Patients who may have COVID-19 aren’t coming to campus. We’re also identifying patients who need to be tested and bringing them in for testing.


  • Dr. Hans House,  M.D. clinical professor of emergency medicine in the Carver College of Medicine at University of Iowa and emergency room physician at UIHC
  • Dr. Nicholas Mohr, M.D. clinical associate professor of emergency medicine, anesthesia - critical care medicine and epidemiology, at University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa