Six Common Questions about COVID-19, Answered


Dr. Todd Ellerin

Todd Ellerin, MD, Director of Infectious Disease

As Director of Infectious Disease at South Shore Health, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from patients, friends, family, and my own colleagues about COVID-19.

This week, as part of South Shore Health’s partnership with WCVB-TV called One Healthy Boston, I was able to answer some great questions from the wider community about coronavirus on Facebook.

Here’s the full YouTube video, if you want to watch it.

Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.

If I feel sick, how long do I wait to call my doctor?

It's important to remember the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 infections are mild. Most people don't have to seek medical attention—but everyone should stay home and away from family members as much as possible if they feel sick.

However, if you have symptoms that you're more concerned about, such as a high fever or difficulty breathing, you need to give your primary care provider a call.

It's important you don't just show up to their office. You must call first and describe your symptoms. Your provider will come up with a plan for you if you have respiratory symptoms, either with or without fevers.

If your provider asks you to come in to the office, he or she may want you to wear a mask. Remember: We don't want well people wearing masks just to go outside. If you're sick and have respiratory symptoms and you have to go to a medical facility, that's when we want you to put on a mask to keep our caregivers safe.

Masks are a valuable resource for medical facilities. Only use them if you’re told you need one by a medical professional.

How worried should I be about COVID-19 transmission through food and food packaging?

The most important things you can do to minimize your risk of contracting COVID-19 is to wash your hands and stop touching your face. We can't go crazy and wipe down every surface that we touch.

Be sure to wash your hands after unloading your grocery bags, but don’t feel you have to clean off the outer packaging on a loaf of bread. (Do wash your produce before eating it—but that’s always good advice!)

What about disinfecting my cell phone?

It’s probably a good idea to periodically use an approved cleaning product on your phone. Check your manufacturer’s website for guidelines on how to keep your phone clean without damaging it.

When will the COVID-19 threat go away?

It is absolutely possible that we could see COVID-19 cases into the summer, but I'm really hoping that the peak occurs as the weather warms. But I can't say this is going to be over before July 4th.

In 2003, we faced another global pandemic: SARS. While it was much less contagious than COVID-19, it was far deadlier. That threat lasted for seven months.

How long we face these social distancing measures in an effort to prevent public health remains to be seen. Our leaders and business owners have had to make some tough decisions. I don’t envy them.

If I have fever or a headache from COVID-19, should I take Tylenol or Advil?

Right now, if I were choosing between acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol) or an ibuprofen (like Advil), I would probably go with Tylenol.

Here’s why: There are some early studies that show that Advil, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, may worsen COVID-19. But these findings are preliminary, so the jury's still out.

Fever is a normal response to illness. If you have fever and you generally feel OK, you don't have to take something to get the fever down. But if you have a severe headache and you're feeling terrible, I’d say go for Tylenol. (For now.)

And be sure to hydrate when you have any respiratory illness, including COVID-19.

What are the most important things to know about COVID-19?

We are going to get through this.

We're seeing social and financial disruption that we've never seen before. That’s scary. But that disruption is because our community is taking this threat seriously and taking these drastic measures to reduce the impact to the healthcare system.

Here are the key points:

  • If you're sick, stay home
  • If you're sick, keep your distance from people in your family. I know that's not easy if you are on home quarantine or home isolation, but you have to take that seriously for the health of your loved ones.
  • Proper hand-washing is very important. See the proper handwashing technique.
  • If you're coughing or sneezing, use your arm to protect others.

Learn more about COVID-19.