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Will the spread of coronavirus really continue into the summer? Is carryout food still safe? Your coronavirus questions answered

You've been asking. We're getting the answers.

CLEVELAND — Many of you have questions and concerns about the coronavirus.

We get it.

That's why we've been having open conversations with Dr. Stephen Sroka from Case Western Reserve.

He is here to answer YOUR concerns.

Below is a list of his responses to some of the questions you asked.

QUESTION: What symptoms should I watch for?

Dr. Sroka: Not everybody has the same response because they have a different immune system. … The big ones, to me, are the fever that’s sustained, a cough and the big one is if you can’t breathe. If you are at home and you can’t breathe, you need to be talking to your provider. We’re suggesting you don’t run to your doctor’s office where other sick people are going to be, but call up your health care provider to get their advice and they can help determine whether or not you need to pursue testing.

QUESTION: When should I go to the doctor?

Dr. Sroka: I ask people, "What would you do if you got the flu?" I think we just need some common sense here. We don’t go out with other people. We don’t try to spread the virus. We take care of ourselves. We don’t go out in large groups, we stay at home. When you get to a place where you really can’t breathe, you’ve got a fever and you’re really coughing, that’s a good time to not go to the emergency room or the hospital, but call your doctor. Let them make a decision. Many of us are going to get sick and have these symptoms, but the big one is the fever.

QUESTION: All restaurants and bars are closed, but carryout is still an option. Should I be worried about the people handling my food -- even in a carryout situation?

Dr. Sroka: You only need one person to spread the disease. A prudent way to go about this is to treat everyone as if they’re infected. You might be infected. I might be infected. We might not know for a week or two. After we pick up our food, we [should] wash our hands before we eat it. This is the best way to live because it’s an invisible epidemic. I can’t tell if you have it or not. If you treat everyone as if they were infected then we take control of this situation much better. It’s more than just hope, it’s making good solid decisions.

QUESTION: With schools closed, is it still OK to let my kids have play dates?

Dr. Sroka: No. This is a personal decision, but limiting the amount of exposure is huge. If there’s a couple kids in the neighborhood that always play with each other, that’s probably OK. Opening it to people outside is not a good idea. Although there is some indication right now that children can still get this infection, most of the time they do not. But they can be asymptomatic carriers. They might have the disease, not get sick and get it to you.

QUESTION: If your kids’ friends don’t seem to be sick, is it safe for them to play together? Even outside?

Dr. Sroka: I think you need to practice protective health behaviors. You cannot tell if someone is infected. … We need to reduce the risk the best we can, and we know kids can be asymptomatic carriers. A lot of the stuff is funny now, but what we’re doing here is so important with action today because we know someone who dies, everything changes. Reducing the risk of harm, and we need to do what a prudent person would do. We’re just a step away from isolating this country. San Francisco is shelter in place. Let’s stop the surge as best we can.

QUESTION: President Trump said March 16 we could be dealing with this virus through July and August. How should people operate?

Dr. Sroka: We’re at the tipping point right now. We can talk about flattening the surge out a little bit. I’m here with hope today, not gloom. We’re going to take control, we’re going to do it. We’ve got to really be honest and we’ve got to hunker down. I’m very much concerned about what people are saying and what they’re doing at their highest levels. We all know if we’re going to stop this surge the importance of social distancing. Rubbing shoulders with people on national television. The press sitting shoulder to shoulder. We come to Ohio and we see the same thing. Everyone is sitting together. Social distancing is our most effective move and we need to be doing this right now. If we can flatten that surge so our medical care delivery system can handle it. But if you flatten it out, you push it out – not just two or four weeks but maybe six or eight weeks. We’re looking at really hunkering down, and that could be scary but we know what to do. We know social distancing. We know wash your hands. … I’d like to touch on something else that a lot of people aren’t talking about right now and that’s the power of prayer for many, many people. That’s important. I think it’s a good time to pray. Pray to your creator, but also take some positive health behaviors. Let’s help that creator out a little bit in stopping this. … A virus has the ability to mutate and get either better or worse. Never say never. Stay tuned because everything is changing fast. Sticking together we can make a difference here.

QUESTION: Is it possible state borders will close? Could we get to that point?

Dr. Sroka: Never say never. We are saying things today no one would have believed last week. The week before, people were going, ‘No problem.’

QUESTION: Should we be concerned about shopping?

Dr. Sroka: At this point right now, there is a shelter-in-place in San Francisco. We need to think about everything we can do to reduce the risk. If you’re going to go into a store, stay a distance from other people. You can order online, but when things are delivered wash up. All the basic hygiene we’ve known to prevent the flu we should be doing right now.

QUESTION: Should factories be shut down right now?

Dr. Sroka: If they can. This is not my first rodeo with infectious diseases. … Everyone can be infected. I don’t know if you’re infected, you don’t know if I’m infected. We assume each other is infected, so we hunker down as much as we can. If you can stay away from your job, we’re saying this is a really good time to stay away from your job. You may not have that option. If you have to go to work, stay your distance, but stay connected. There’s other ways to talk to people out there today.

QUESTION: Could the water supply be affected?

Dr. Sroka: I don’t think that’s a concern right now. We have pretty good control on our water and I think there’s an awareness out there that people need water.

QUESTION: How do you treat this?

Dr. Sroka: We have the big warning signs: A cough, a temperature and if you can’t breathe. If that happens, you call your healthcare provider as soon as possible. You don’t go into the office because there might be other people there. These are decisions that must be made by your medical provider that knows you best out there. A lot of people will have the flu and there will be other things out there. This is just starting to hit. As we said in the very first day, stay tuned because everything is changing.

QUESTION: While mass gatherings have been canceled throughout the country, my church is still open. Should I reconsider going to church?

Dr. Sroka: Staying away from crowds makes a lot of sense. Social distancing helps to deal with the despair out there today. Anything we can do to stay out of those conditions, we should do. When it comes to the church, it’s a belief system, but I believe you can take control of your life, too. Let’s help your provider out a little bit and do the things we should do so we don’t spread the virus. Being in close contact with a lot of people who may be compromised because of what’s going to be happening, let’s stay home and pray.

QUESTION: When it comes to travel, should I cancel my spring break vacation?

Dr. Sroka: Do you think the virus could be in Florida? You really want to watch your social distance. Getting on a plane is not a good idea. You’re going to be with people from all around the country bringing in their regional viruses. … I think it’s a good time to act preventively, proactively. OK, you lost this spring break, but you’ll feel better. If this virus takes off, what would happen if you went to Florida and got sick? Your providers are up here, there’s a lot of things to think about. Let’s be around next year to take that spring break.

QUESTION: What age should we be most concerned about?

Dr. Sroka: All ages. To put this in perspective, we’ve got to flatten the curve, that’s why we’re shutting down the schools. This is going to surge. We just started testing. These numbers are going to go crazy. We’ve got to spread that surge out. This is called mitigation and containment. This is why the Governor is shutting down the schools, so the disease can’t spread. Right now, kids do not seem to get this disease as seriously as adults. They can be an asymptomatic carrier, and that’s the sad thing. You go to school, you have fun, you feel good, you go home you kiss your grandmother who has a compromised immune system and that’s the scary part right now. Trying to curtail kids is very difficult. Back when the swine flu hit in 2009, we shut down schools and where did the kids go? To the mall.

QUESTION: Why is this a bigger deal than the swine flu?

Dr. Sroka: We didn’t learn the lessons that were taught then. All the things we ought to be doing about the flu, we’re not doing. How many people got the flu shot? … People are taking this a whole lot more seriously than yesterday.

QUESTION: Does the flu shot help with the coronavirus?

Dr. Sroka: It’s a different virus, so it probably won’t. We also know that once you get sick with one, it makes you more susceptible to others. The biggest misinformation here is people saying, “I’m taking care of myself. I’m buying my antibacterial soap.” This is not bacterial. You need to protect yourself the best ways you can. We think getting the flu vaccine, at least, lessens that. It’s not going to protect you from the coronavirus, but it will protect you from other possible consequences if your immune system gets compromised with the flu or with the coronavirus.

QUESTION: What is the benefit of closing K-12 schools at this point? (NOTE: This question was asked Thursday morning before Gov. DeWine ordered all schools closed)

Dr. Sroka: I think it’s really important to be cautious at this time. Things change fast. The President last night was a different person than he was two days ago. We’ve already shut down schools this year because of the flu. Now we have a disease that Dr. Fauci said is maybe 10 times more lethal than the flu. Although we know many of our kids don’t seem to be impacted, about 80 percent of people who do get this it’s very mild and an asymptomatic transmission. Theoretically, a child could get it, go home and kiss their grandmother who is an older person that’s compromised. We need to be proactive not reactive. Sometimes it makes sense to do some of these things. We tell people to stay away from crowds, and then we stick our kids in school. What’s the message we’re really going to give them? We know what we need to do: Stay away from people and keep some distance. Schools right now, if they do stay open it’s a tough decision. We’re suggesting they be at least three feet away from each other. But kids are kids. They’re going to share boogers. They’re going to share hands. They’re going to share food. That’s why we’ve shut down the schools because of the flu. We need to have some common sense. We make our best decisions today on data-driven disease information, and that’s what we’re going to do today. It could all change tomorrow. Why do we want to experiment with an adolescent population?

QUESTION: We’re not supposed to shake hands for now, but is it still safe to do the elbow bump?

Dr. Sroka: Now we’re saying social distancing is huge. The three-foot virtual bump is probably a better way to do it.

QUESTION: Why are mass gatherings now being canceled for coronavirus, but not the flu?

Dr. Sroka: The flu has always been a concern, but as we know this thing changes day by day. This is a data-driven disease. We know with Dr. Fauci saying just yesterday that this disease is probably 10 times more lethal than the flu. He says at this point it is possibly even more contagious. We have a real heightened awareness now. … We need to be prudent. Things change fast.

QUESTION: Will this get worse?

Dr. Sroka: There is no question it’s going to get worse because we’re just starting to test it. We know it’s out there. We have to brace people for it. It will get worse. How worse? We don’t know. We’ll ride it out. We know everything you would do to prevent the flu, and that’s what we should be doing now – but maybe 10 times stronger.

QUESTION: Should we be concerned going into gyms or rec centers?

Dr. Sroka: I think the questions to ask right now is if you go to that gym, what type of ventilation do they have? Do they have disinfecting? Social distancing is pretty big right now. We’re seeing schools be at least three feet away, and others saying at least six feet away. If you’re spotting somebody at the gym and somebody’s breathing down on you, that’s not a good condition. Many people go to the gym when they’re sick because they want to work through that sickness, which can put you at risk. You can take a day or two off and work out in the basement. … When you’re in the gym, you’re picking up other peoples’ equipment. Who is wiping it down. You’ve been there. I’ve been there. Many people don’t wipe it down.

QUESTION: We're in flu season as we also deal with coronavirus. What should we keep in mind?

Dr. Sroka: The World Health Organization says we have a pandemic, but we also have another concern out there, which could possibly be even more dangerous, and that’s the panic-demic. People are making decisions based on fear and not facts. We have to have data-driven disease information. We can’t just speculate. I think I can release a lot of fears because we know what we need to do to prevent this. … Any one of us can take charge to stop this transmission. This virus can only get into your body one of three ways: Your eyes, your nose, your mouth.

Watch our extended 20-minute Q&A sessions below:

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