Common questions about the coronavirus for over 60s
How long does the coronavirus live on different surfaces? Do face masks help? All of your COVID-19 questions answered.
Life in the time of coronavirus can be confusing – mixed messages from state and federal leaders and new discoveries about the nature of the coronavirus being made every day have left Australians confused as to what they should do.
Out of the 75 common questions answered in the The Australian’s article – we’ve extracted the most relevant for our readers.
The article was first publish in The Australian ‘75 questions about coronavirus answered‘, by Lachlan Moffet Gray and Angelica Snowden.
What does flattening the curve mean?
“Flattening the curve” is a term being used by medical officials and the Australian government to describe slowing the rate of coronavirus infection to a manageable point. It is often visualised to demonstrate why measures such as social distancing and self-isolation are necessary.
What is herd immunity?
Herd immunity is a controversial theory of infectious disease management that says vulnerable people are protected from a disease when many around them are immune. It usually is employed to justified vaccination campaigns – but it has been used most notably by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and has been referenced by Scott Morrison in relation to coronavirus. The idea is to allow a portion of a population to catch coronavirus and then develop immunity – stopping the transmission of the disease in the long run.
What effect does coronavirus have on the body – isn’t it just a cold?
Coronavirus is not just a cold. It is a respiratory illness that infects the cell lining in the lungs and throat, causing dry coughs, body aches and a headache. It can present with any symptoms of a flu-like illness – cough, sore throat, headache, shortness of breath, body aches, fever.
For 80% of people, these are the only symptoms that will be experienced – but for around 14% of people, the body’s immune system will overreact, causing inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia). For 6% of people, the immune system begins to cause damage to other parts of the body – potentially resulting in death from septic shocks or organ failure.
Am I protected against COVID-19 19 if I have had the flu vaccine?
No. But Health chiefs across the countries are advising people to get vaccinated against the flu to ensure that anyone who contracts coronavirus does not also contract the viral flu, which could have significant health consequences.
Do I need to self-isolate?
You need to self-isolate for 14 days if you have returned from overseas within the last fortnight, or have had contact with a confirmed case within the last fortnight from the date of return or contact made. If you are experiencing symptoms, it is wise to voluntarily self-isolate and contact the government’s coronavirus helpline on 1800 020 080.
Are people really going to get fined for failing to self-isolate?
Yes. All states and territories have enacted penalties for failing to self-isolate if ordered or after returning from overseas.
In NSW, someone who does not self-isolate for 14 days after returning from overseas can be hit with a fine up to $11,000 or six months in prison. In Victoria, there is a near $20,000 fine. In Queensland, a fine of up to $13,345, in the ACT $8000, WA up to $50,000 or jail time, NT $1256 or six months in prison, SA has a maximum fine of $25,000 and Tasmania, a fine of $16,800 or six months in prison.
Police in NSW can also now offer $1000 on the spot fines for individuals and $5000 fines for businesses that violate prescribed business closures and social distancing rules.
I have a health condition, do I need to worry?
People with underlying health conditions are more at risk from coronavirus. Specifically, people undergoing cancer treatment or people with heart disease, asthma, diabetes, respiratory problems, high blood pressure, HIV, auto-immune disorders or recipients of bone marrow transplant are also at risk.
I think I have coronavirus. Should I go to the hospital?
It is important to only use emergency rooms if absolutely necessary as hospitals are experiencing a surge in visits. The Australian government is encouraging anyone who suspects they have coronavirus to call the national coronavirus helpline on 1800 020 080 and talk to an operator, who will tell you what you should do next.
The government has recently expanded the eligibility criteria for testing. If you have returned from overseas since 15 March and developed symptoms within 14 days, or had contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus you should make an appointment to be tested. Additionally, if you live in an area where community transmission is occurring, or are a healthcare or aged care worker, you should also make an appointment. Remember to call ahead to let the hospital or clinic know that you are coming, and explain how you may have been transmitted the virus. Try to keep 1.5 metres away from other people.
I am self-isolating and suspect I have symptoms of coronavirus, how do I treat my symptoms from home?
It is important to rest well and keep fluids up, like if you were ill with a normal flu. Paracetamol is currently acceptable as a way of managing the symptoms of coronavirus. The WHO briefly warned against treating symptoms with ibuprofen, but has since retracted that advice.
I have tested positive. Will I really be non-contagious after just 14 days?
The purpose of the 14 day self-isolation measure is because the WHO has advised that the average incubation period – or the amount of time between infection and the appearance of symptoms – can take from one days to 14 days, most commonly five. However – there have been a few isolated outliers where incubation periods have been longer, some as long as 24 days.
If you do have coronavirus, you won’t be non-contagious until you have recovered and been cleared by medical professionals.
I’m self-isolating. Can I walk the dog, even if I do not come into contact with anyone?
No. If you have been overseas and returned after March 16 or have been ordered to isolate, the Government’s isolation advice allows at the most for you to be outside in a private garden or courtyard. If you are in a hotel and are going to a private outdoor area, you must wear gloves and a mask when moving through common areas.
I’m 70 years old. What should I do to stay safe?
Take reasonable precautions. Stay home if possible and try to avoid public transport. Wear gloves and a mask when venturing outside if possible and make sure to frequently wash your hands and use hand sanitiser. Try to take advantage of services now being offered for elderly Australians like the community shopping hour between 7am and 8am by both Coles and Woolworths. Woolworths is now only reserving online delivery of groceries for vulnerable groups, including the coronavirus.
Will I die if I get coronavirus?
Probably not. Currently, the mortality rate in Australia is less than one per cent. Globally, it is just under five per cent, with only six per cent of cases developing life-threatening symptoms. However, no-one is truly safe and the advice of health authorities should be followed.
I have a relative or friend in an aged care home. Can I visit them?
The government has recently announced new guidelines for people visiting nursing homes as elderly people are especially vulnerable and nursing homes are a nexus for disease transmission – three of Australia’s six deaths have been residents of an aged care home.
There can now only be two people visiting a home at any one time, and only for short periods of time. The visit should be conducted in the resident’s room, outdoors or in a specified area. You cannot enter an aged care facility if you have been overseas in the past 14 days or have been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case. From May 1, you must also have had a flu shot to enter an aged care home. Be aware that many aged care facilities have voluntarily locked down.
I have a relative in hospital. Can I visit them?
Hospitals are making their own individual preparations regarding visitors. Contact the relevant hospital to find out what their guidelines are – but don’t go if you have been overseas in the past 14 days, or if you have been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case. In WA, children under the age of 16 cannot visit hospitals.
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I’m in self-isolation. How do I get food?
If you are a member of a vulnerable group then supermarkets will deliver grocery orders to you. If you are not, Coles and Woolworths will not deliver and other supermarkets may not be able to fulfil your order in a timely manner.
If you are in Victoria, premier Daniel Andrews has said that the state government will organise food packages to be delivered to those stuck in isolation. Otherwise, community groups are organising ways to get food to those who need it – contact your local religious institution, council or community centre. Additionally, many restaurants are still offering home delivery and food delivery services like Uber eats are still operational.
Are fresh vegetables and fruit safe from the virus or do I need to wash everything first?
As coronavirus can be transmitted via surfaces, it is prudent to wash all raw food that may have been handled by others before cooking it.
Some of our local shops have staff wearing gloves, but others don’t. Should we avoid those that don’t have gloves?
Under Australian work, health and safety laws employers have a legal obligation to take reasonable precautions to avoid the risks of COVID-19 transmissions among their staff and any customers. There is no prescription for gloves from the government, but they will probably become more common in shops for the above reason. You don’t need to avoid these stores if you take reasonable precautions.
Is it safe as a grandparent to look after my grandchildren?
The government is advising older Australians do not receive visits from grandchildren. Younger people can carry coronavirus without exhibiting severe symptoms and unwittingly transfer the disease.
It’s important for your own wellbeing to avoid visits from your grandchildren as those over 60 are more at risk of having ill-health from coronaviruses, not the other way round.
Could my pet be a carrier?
The CDC advises that although there is no evidence companion animals can spread COVID-19, animals have been known to carry coronaviruses in the past. Practice good hygiene after interacting with your pets and to practice social distancing from them if you suspect you are infected.
If someone pats my dog while we’re out walking, is there a chance that the virus could be passed on via his fur?
There have been no confirmed cases of this occurring but coronavirus can live on porous surfaces like hair – but not as long as it can on smoother surfaces. Take reasonable precautions.
Is it possible the virus could be passed on in the post through the surface of letters and parcels?
It is possible as coronavirus can survive on the surface of cardboard and cardboard-like surfaces for 24 hours. However, risk can be mitigated by opening the parcels with glove or by disinfecting your hands with sanitiser after opening the package.
Is it safe to touch money?
Because many stores across the world have chosen to only accept contactless card payments at this time, there is an impression that the official advice is not to use money. This is incorrect – the WHO has not issued an official warning against using bank notes, only to practice good hygiene doing so. There are no confirmed cases of paper or polymer notes transferring the virus but it is considered possible. It’s a decision for you.
Is it safe to catch taxis?
The government is advising drivers of taxis to employ good hygiene practices – such as the use of hand sanitiser and disinfectant – to ensure the virus doesn’t transfer through the vehicle. The Prime Minister has also advised people sit in the back of the taxi if possible. It is not completely safe, but it is a good alternative to mass public transport.
Do I need to go to the doctor if I get a bad headache?
Unless you have returned from overseas in the last 14 days, work as an aged care or healthcare professional, or have had contact with a confirmed case, then you should. Otherwise the government is advising against non-essential medical visits. If the headache persists, a medical visit for non-coronavirus reasons may be prudent.
Are any medications unsafe to take?
It is best to consult with a pharmacist or your doctor about what medications you should take if you believe you have coronavirus as there is no evidence to suggest any medication is harmful. However, some doctors have expressed concern over immunosuppressant medications potentially exacerbating symptoms – but most authorities believe this is not an issue.
Do I really need to wear a face mask?
Current government advice is that surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who have coronavirus from spreading it. If you are well, you do not need to wear a mark but if you are feeling ill, it is a reasonable precaution.
Is there a chance I’ve already had it and didn’t know?
Potentially – some people who have been diagnosed with the disease report little to no symptoms. However, unless you have recently returned from overseas or have had contact with a confirmed case, it is unlikely. Currently, almost 99% of the 160,000 or so coronavirus tests carried out in Australia have returned a negative reading.
Should I more buy toilet paper?
No. The shortage of toilet paper is manufactured by people panic buying rolls en masse. Australia has the capability to produce enough toilet paper to supply the population. The raw ingredient of the precious commodity is softwood and sawmill residue, which Australia has in abundance. In addition, Kleenex, Sorbent and ABC tissues have ramped up production in their Australian facilities to resupply shops. Take a deep breath. In this aspect of the coronavirus crisis, we will be fine.
– 75 questions about coronavirus answered, The Australian. By Lachlan Moffet Gray and Angelica Snowden. Published 26 March 2020. Read article.
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