On this episode of Social Distance, Dr. James Hamblin takes a stab at answering some of the questions listeners have been sending to the show—including the practical (Should I get a haircut?) and the existential (When will this end?).
If you have a question for James—big or small—you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave the show a voicemail at 202-642-6487.
Listen to the episode here:
Some questions that James answers:
Should I get a haircut?
If you’re in a place where the barbers are still open, you know, that’s someone kind of hovering around your head and touching very near your face for a prolonged period, just for aesthetic reasons. And that’s a luxury we’ll have to do without. Everyone’s gonna be super shaggy here after this.
How long will it take to make an antibody test [which would test for immunity to the novel coronavirus]?
A matter of months, I’m told … you know, a lot will be riding on a test like this. So it’s kind of similar to the vaccine in that you don’t just—the first person who’s discovered it doesn’t mean, “Oh, now we have one.” There’s an approval process to make sure, yeah, this really does work. And also we need to know, indeed, that if you have these antibodies, you really can’t get sick again.
What are the early symptoms and do you get all of them, or do different people have different combinations of symptoms?
A big part of the reason that this disease is so dangerous is that it can look like so many different things. You know, tuberculosis, Lyme disease, lots of other infectious diseases have this sort of classic progression. If there is one here with COVID-19, it’s not at all reliable. Some people will be nearly asymptomatic. Some people just have a mild disease that could not be distinguished from a cold. And many people will have difficulty breathing and lower-respiratory disease. But you can’t fully diagnose it without one of these tests that actually finds this virus.
What are the best guidelines for packages and food delivery?
I mean, every time you place an order, you are asking someone to go out on your behalf into the world. And that puts them at risk. And I’m thinking about that. But also every time you go out, that’s not ideal either. So I think delivery is the only way to sustain this, and the ideal is doing it as safely as possible, with as little human contact as possible. And if you order things to be delivered to your house, if there’s a possibility to leave them in a place for a couple days, you know, to put them in a closet or to leave them on your stoop, then there will be time for—if there is any virus on it—that virus to die. The virus can’t live forever … you can be as safe as possible by washing your hands as soon as you pick it up and trying to be as sterile as possible.
Are there best practices for living with especially vulnerable people right now?
I would try to practice social distancing even inside the house right now if you live with vulnerable people. Yes, it’s likely that if you live together, the person is going to get sick if you get sick, even if you try to keep distance. But just be extremely careful. If you live with vulnerable people, if you have another place to stay for a while and you could live with younger, healthier people or stay with younger, healthier people, that would be great. But you just have to be extremely conscious of the fact that you don’t want to bring this virus into the home. Because a young, healthy person might be barely symptomatic and not even feel bad and then sit down at the dinner table with elderly parents and, you know, infect them. And that would be a terrible fate.
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