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Ask a doctor about the novel coronavirus

MSNBC medical contributor Dr. Joseph Fair, a virologist, epidemiologist and outbreak responder, answered some of your questions.
Image: Shoppers in a Costco stock up on a 14-day supply of food, water and other necessities in Honolulu
Shoppers line up outside a Costco to buy supplies after the Hawaii Department of Health on Wednesday advised residents they should stock up on a 14-day supply of food, water and other necessities for the potential risks of novel coronavirus in Honolulu, last Friday.Duane Tanouye / Reuters

Q: It appears that the transmission mechanism for this virus had not been pinpointed? Would it be reasonable to assume that (for example) if I bought a pair of shoes from a USA distributor made and packaged in China, that the packaging material may have traces of the virus in the packaging from handling in China? Could the virus survive? —J Pickell

A: In the above scenario, it is highly unlikely since the shoes have been made for a while before they ship. Studies have shown that coronaviruses can remain infectious on surfaces for up to 9 days.

The route of transmission is known, and it involves direct contact with the virus through the eyes, nose, and mouth, via liquid respiratory droplets.

Those droplets can infect you if you are in their path when someone coughs or sneezes and doesn’t cover their mouth, or if you touch surfaces that still have infectious virus on them and then touch your face.

That is why regular cleaning of common surfaces is key to mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Q: Would it help to ask talk show hosts to simply touch their hearts and nod to their guests instead of shaking hands? -CB

A: Yes, a head nod/bow while touching your heart is a common way to greet and show respect to someone without passing germs along. All anchors should do this on air to show the public how it works and to normalize it as a common behavior. People can and do have adverse reactions to not shaking their hands in western culture.

Q: Could you get Coronavirus from recirculated air? i.e. on airplanes —KG

A: There is little to no chance of it being spread via this route. You have to come into direct contact with the virus and it has to enter via your eyes, nose, or mouth. You are far more likely to get it from touching the seat, tray table, bathroom door handles, or if someone coughs or sneezes on you.

Q: What would you have President Trump do, other than what he’s doing, about the coronavirus? —Bob Eakes

A: Communicate every day, several times per day. Not knowing makes fear, panic, hysteria run rampant. Communication and specifics help to mitigate those outcomes. Be specific on when, where, and how people can be tested; neither physicians or the public know at this point. Air advertisements every day on every network on how to prevent COVID-19 spread and where you can seek care, reiterating current guidelines and testing criteria. Explain whether the tests and the eventual vaccine will be free or cost the consumer. Typically, we offer tests and vaccines in public health emergencies for free.

Lastly, we have to allow undocumented individuals to be tested and seek care without fear of deportation. If not, we risk making this problem much worse than it already is at present. I would advise to offer at least a temporary stay against deportation for individuals that need to seek care and be tested.

If you have a question for Dr. Fair, let us know and send them here.