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USF Health professionals debunk COVID-19 myths

Dr. Marissa Levine said a common misconception young people have is believing they are immune to contracting COVID-19. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

From claims about how heat can kill the coronavirus (COVID-19) to nonchalantly social distancing with friends, there is a substantial amount of misinformation floating around. 

Dr. Sally Alrabaa, USF infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Marissa Levine, USF public health specialist, debunk some common misconceptions students may have about the virus.  

Myth No. 1: It is the common cold or the flu. 

COVID-19 has symptoms similar to the flu and the common cold, however, this specific virus has no immunity which has the potential to cause severe symptoms. 

“This virus has been mutated since it came from bats so it’s new to the human body,”  Alrabaa said. “It typically infects the lungs and makes it hard for people to breathe and some may need ventilators because of that. 

“I wouldn’t take it for granted.”

Myth No 2: The coronavirus is in my food. 

A study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus is detectable on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours, according to The Guardian.

Even though the virus is said to last on surfaces, no information has been documented about it being spread through foods. However, that doesn’t mean that the foods have been properly cleaned or washed. 

“You can clean leafy vegetables with soap and water and you can certainly scrub off other fruits and vegetables,” Levine said. “It’s not so much the food we are worried about but the surfaces that have had contact with it.” 

Levine suggested wiping down porous surfaces with soap and water as well. 

Myth No. 3: I can social distance with my friends in my dorm or apartment. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said “respiratory droplets” from someone coughing on another person is one of the main transmissions of the virus which is why maintaining a distance is an effective way to reduce to spread.

“The six-foot rule has a scientific basis,” Levine said. “That’s what we know is the minimum and some [professionals] are saying 10 feet to be even safer.”

Even though health officials are mandating people to physically distance, Levine said that doesn’t mean students have to lose touch of their personal relationships. 

“We want people to maintain their social connections but not do it physically because we want people to be healthy and well,” Levine said. “Mental health is an important part of this.” 

Myth No. 4: I need to wear gloves and a mask to protect myself.

“If you aren’t coughing, you really don’t need to wear a mask or gloves,” Alrabaa said. “Just make sure you are washing your hands, social distancing and not touching your face.” 

As the COVID-19 outbreak progresses, CDC professionals have discussed altering the official guidance to have people wear face masks, according to a Washington Post article. However, no official changes have been made. 

Myth No. 5: I will fall behind in coursework because I won’t be able to continue my learning in the hospital. 

“I see some of the frustrations students are having about not being able to continue their classes,” Alrabaa said. “They are worried about catching up, especially students who are in labs, and how it will affect their grades.

“There are a lot of unknowns but professors want to work with students and eventually they’ll be able to make up the loss time but right now it is not a safe environment for students to be in.”

Myth No. 6: The heat will kill the virus.

Alrabaa said health professionals are doing studies about COVID-19 but no evidence has shown that the heat will stop the virus completely. 

“Some are thinking that if they go out to the beach or are exposed to the sun that it will kill the virus but that is not the case,” Alrabaa said. 

Myth No. 7: I should go to the hospital if I am showing coronavirus symptoms.  

Alrabaa said this should not be the first resort.  

“You come to the hospital if you are terribly sick,” Alrabaa said.“If you are having a cold or just a cough, stay home. People think just because they think they have coronavirus that it’s OK to show up at the hospital. The people who are in the hospital are people who need ventilators (assistance with breathing) or a bed in the [Intensive Care Unit] ICU.” 

Alrabaa said students who believe they are showing symptoms should self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days and contact health authorities via phone if necessary. 

It is important to know the symptoms before taking additional steps, according to Alrabaa. 

“If you get exposed to the virus, it takes about five days before you show any sign of the illness, if you do have it, “Alrabaa said. “Some of the most common complaints are a fever and dry cough. By week two, that is when most people develop phenomena.”

Myth No. 8: A vaccine will be ready by this summer. 

Alrabaa said a cure for the virus could be at least a year away, however, medical professionals are conducting clinical trials and using medicines to ease symptoms.  

“The treatment health professionals are using is experimental,” Alrabaa said. “Right now, an old malaria drug called hydroxy chloroquine is being used. 

“The trials take months in order to get the results. The vaccine will take at least a year, so we are not looking for immediate results. We have to keep at [the clinical trials] so, at some point, we get results.” 

Myth No. 9: Young people are least likely to contract the virus.

A study done by the CDC — between Feb. 12 and March 16 — showed 38 percent of those sick enough to be hospitalized were younger than 55, according to The Washington Post. 

Now, people ages 20 to 54 make up the largest demographic of confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

“Coronavirus may not be such a benign virus for young people,” Levine said. “Clearly, those who are older and have pre-existing conditions are at greater risk, but that doesn’t mean young people are off the hook.”

Levine said social distancing is not only to protect themselves but as a way to limit spreading the virus to people who are more susceptible. 

“Everybody has an important public health responsibility and everyone needs to know they are a part of public health,” Levine said.