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COVID-19: Your Frequently Asked Questions - Answered

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ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- It's one of the biggest stories of our lifetimes, one with difficult questions, and sometimes, not easy answers. To help you navigate the uncertain waters, KMOV is asking your questions, and reaching out to experts in search of answers. 

We'll keep updating this story with answers to your questions.

These are some of our viewers' most-frequently asked questions:

Q: Why are some stores posting signs that say "by order of state and local agencies, everyone must wear a mask" when there is no ordinance stating such?

A: We have checked with numerous stores in the area. Most of them have taken the position of encouraging, but not forcing their customers to wear masks. Remember that private businesses can set their own policies, such as "no shirts, no shoes, no service." But those policies must be in compliance with other regulations, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Q: In light of the COVID crisis, and restrictions on churches, are polling places being removed from them before Tuesday's election?

A: According to the St. Louis County Board of Elections, no polling places have been removed from churches. If you receive a notice about a new voting location, its because many polling places have been consolidated due to a shortage of election judges.

Q: Are there exceptions to face mask orders if a person has a medical issue?

A: Remember, in Missouri, there are no orders requiring anyone to wear a mask.

In Illinois, everyone over two years old is required to wear a mask in certain situations, but yes, they are exempt if there is a medical reason not to wear one. Also remember that some private businesses do have the right to refuse service anytime they fell someone poses a threat. That could include them feeling not wearing a mask causes a health threat. For employees who say they cannot wear a mask at work, the Americans for Disability Act states that businesses should make accommodations to their employees.

Q: Does it matter if you wash your hands with warm or cold water?

A: According to the CDC, water is water, and temperature for cleansing doesn't matter. But make sure it's running water, and not water sitting in a basin. And regular soap is just a good as anti-bacterial soap. Just make sure you give them a good wash of at least 20 seconds.

Q:  If a senior citizen is called back to work, and they would prefer not to return, can they remain at home and collect unemployment?

A:  We asked the Missouri Department of Labor, and the answer is no.  Any worker, regardless of age, who does not return to work cannot collect unemployment.  There are exceptions, such as someone in your home has COVID-19 of the pandemic affects your transportation or childcare.  And if your doctor advises you not to work, you might be eligible for PUA, pandemic unemployment assistance. 

Q:  It's garage sale season.  Are they allowed in the reopening?

A:  Depends on where you live.  In Illinois, they are still prohibited under state orders.  In Missouri, garage sales are open under social distancing guidelines.  Rules will vary by each municipalities ordinance.

Q: Is it true that church services are limited to 10 people at a time?

A: If you live in Illinois, which is still under more stringent conditions, yes. There are no limitations in Missouri. In both states, masks and social distancing are still required.

Q: Are both employees and customers required to wear masks in grocery stores?

A: Again, it depends on which side of the river you live. In Illinois, neither employees or customers are required to wear masks, unless there are no proper social distancing guidelines in place. But Illinois does require other safety measures, such as barriers between employees and customers.

On the Missouri side, there are no requirements for employees or customers. Governor Parson has left that up to individual stores. But if you are shopping in St. Louis city or county, grocery store employees are required to mask up. Customers are not.

Q: What happens when we get into elevators? Will they be safe?

A: According to the New York Times, elevators do not pose any particular risk, but if it's crowded, or people are not wearing masks, wait for the next ride, or take the stairs and get some exercise. And if you do take the elevator, don't touch your face after pressing buttons, and wash your hands when you get off. And don't forget to wear your mask.

Q: Can COVID-19 be spread through cigarette smoke?

A: Doctors at Temple University say no. There does not appear appear to be any difference between being near a smoker, or a non smoker for contracting the virus. Of course, second hand smoke is another health problem.

Q: With many businesses opening or getting close to opening, when will we be able to hit the blackjack tables at area casino's again?

A: The Missouri Gaming Commission says this is a state issue, and the state has suspended all gambling licenses due to COVID-19. They say it's possible those licenses could be restored as early as next Monday. After that, re-opening is up to local jurisdictions. Whenever casino's re-open, expect to see big changes, including the possibility that slot machines will remain shutdown. Of course, that's not a problem if you can hit a blackjack.

Q: Why is it still so difficult to find disinfectant products on store shelves?

A: Multiple sources have the same answer: supply and demand. The manufacturers simply cannot make enough of some products fast enough. For example, Clorox reports seeing a 500 percent increase in demand. Companies are hiring workers, adding shifts, and ramping up production. But as this is an historic event, without precedent, expect to continue to see sparse shelves and purchase limits a while longer.

Q: Does a provision of the CARES Act de-fund Social Security?

A: We understand the confusion here, but no it does not. According the US House of Representatives, the Cares Act lets employers delay payments of Social Security taxes, but they'll have to be made up next year.

Q: Do restaurant workers have to wear masks?

A: This will vary by county, and the specific answers will come from the local health department. We checked with St. Charles County, where restaurants have already reopened, and they do require it.

Q: With forehead thermometers being part of the new normal, will temperatures be accurate?

A: According to Kaiser Permanente Health Group, "temporary artery thermometers" as they are called, often register a degree or two on the low side.

Q: It's that time of year. Can COVID-19 be spread in swimming pools?

A: You are safe here, if your pool ever opens. The CDC says there is no evidence the virus can spread in any type of water play area. The key is proper maintenance. Chlorine or bromine should inactivate and virus that might be in the water.

Q: Dental offices are re-opening. Is it really safe for dental workers to go back to work?

A: Both the CDC and the Missouri Dental Association acknowledge that dental offices can be risky environments due to droplets and aerosol contamination. They recommend both workers and patients be screened, and staff should wear gowns, gloves, goggles and masks.

Q: If someone tests positive for COVID-19, is there a way to tell where and how the person contracted the virus?

A: We turned to St. Louis Task force Doctor Alex Garza for the answer. Here's what he said. "It's challenging to say whether those come from family contact or community contact. I don't think anyone can tell you that with any degree of certainty, so it's just challenging to say how is spreading in the community."

Q: Why do people get a recording saying no one is available to help when calling the IRS about tax refunds? When will this change?

A: Last week, the IRS put out the call to employees who were working at home to come back to the office to help answer calls and process forms. Thousands of workers agreed and are now back at their desks.

The IRS says this should help speed things up considerably.

Q: If someone tests positive for COVID-19, is there a way to tell where and how the person contracted the virus?

A: We turned to St. Louis Task force Doctor Alex Garza for the answer. Here's what he said. "It's challenging to say whether those come from family contact or community contact. I don't think anyone can tell you that with any degree of certainty, so it's just challenging to say how is spreading in the community."

Q: With so much influenza vaccine made in Europe, could there be a shortage in the fall?

A: According to the CDC, producing enough flu vaccine is always a challenge, mainly because the virus changing every season. When supplies run low, they are prioritized for the most at-risk patients, like the elderly young children. At this time, there are no reports of any unusual shortages.

Q: Are the numbers reported for COVID-19 cases just for confirmed positive cases, or do they include presumed cases also?

A: We checked with several area health departments, and they all tell us that reported cases are confirmed positive cases only.

Q: What happens if we receive a stimulus check for someone who has passed away in our family?

A: Unfortunately, you will have to return it. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the treasury is working on a plan to enable the return of those checks.

Q: We have received many questions about the nation's meat supply, in light of concerns that have closed processing plants around the country. Here is Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's answer.

A. "Concerned in that we're monitoring it closely, agriculture, local departments paying close attention to meat producers but I don't currently believe we will have a problem but we're watching it very closely."

Q: How can the closure of a few plants create a possible meat shortage, when there are hundreds of them around the country?

A: According to CBS and industry sources, some two dozen plants around the country are experiencing COVID-19 issues. The result is overall meat production is down nearly 25%. Some analysts say that could lead to a met shortage within a week, and possibly price increases.

Q: Is it possible to compare the number of deaths from the flu to those from COVID-19?

A: According to the CDC, the answer is yes. Its website shows more than 34,000 flu deaths in the United States during the 2018-2019 flu season. The current number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States is over 57 thousand. Current estimates predict roughly 75 thousand Americans will die from COVID-19.

Q: Why is there so much demand for testing?

A: Health officials says it is because they need to test not just people with symptoms, but healthy people too. That is the only way to get a full picture of how widespread the virus is. 

Dr. Alex Garza of the St. Louis Task Force answered the question this way: "That's the point we'd like to get to ... is how many people have the virus instead of just those sick enough to seek testing so that's a big reason for that."

Q: How long do I have to follow quarantine orders once I start feeling better?

A: Again, we cite Dr. Garza. He says there is no wiggle room on this one. You must complete the entire duration of the quarantine, which is usually 14 days. otherwise, even if you feel better, it's possible you could spread the virus.

Q: Will the stimulus checks affect my income tax refund check?

A: No. the IRS says the one time stimulus payment will have no effect on any tax refund, this year or next.

Q: Whose stay at home orders take precedent? The state, the county, or the city?

A: According to Missouri Governor Mike Parson, as well as city and county leaders, the answer is whichever entity has the strictest order. Counties are allowed to issue stricter orders than the state, but not more lenient.

Q: Can infected workers at meat processing plants transfer the virus to the meat?

A: Good news here. According to the CDC, there is no known risk of contracting COVID-19 from food or food packaging.

Q: With the shortage of test kits around the country, especially the cotton swabs used to collect samples, could they use generic "Q-tip" type swabs found in stores?

A: According the the CDC, generic swabs may not be sterile enough for clinical tests, and there is a risk they could cause misleading results. COVID-19 testing requires a special type of swab.

Q: Is there a new at home COVID-19 test?

A: Yes. The FDA made the announcement Tuesday.

The good news is you no longer have to go to a drive through site, or to a doctors office. It's called the "Pixel" kit, and it's made by Lab Corp of America. The kit includes a nasal swab similar to those used at drive through locations, and saline. After you take the swab, you mail the kit in an insulated package to Lab Corp. The kit should be available in a few weeks. But remember, you still need a doctor's order to get the test.

Q: Has there been a delay in sending out the government checks? We file taxes electronically and are still waiting to get our stimulus check. Does the stimulus payment affect social security and disability payments? We are also having problems checking the status of government checks. What's up?

A: Good and bad news. Social security and disability payments should come as scheduled, but the IRS says those checks might be delayed for bout three weeks because the IRS must coordinate with multiple agencies. Patience is a virtue!

Q: When I get my stimulus check, will I have to pay taxes on it?

A: The Internal Revenue Service has good news for you. No taxes will be deducted from your check.

Q: I know checks are being sent out. Where can I find out when I will get mine?

A: Go to the IRS website at www.irs.gov.

Once there, look for the "Get My Payment" section. You will need your social security number and date of birth. You can decide how you want to receive your payment. The fastest way is direct deposit. For that, you will need to enter your banking information. Otherwise, you can do it the old fashioned way and patiently wait for the mailman.

Q: With COVID-19 reportedly lasting longer in cooler environments, should we avoid cold foods like ice cream or cold drinks?

A: Nothing to worry about here. According to the CDC, there is no evidence of the virus being spread through any kind of food. So bring on those banana splits!

Q: Can our pets get the coronavirus?

A: The Food and Drug Administration says they can, but probably not this COVID version. Other strains of the virus can cause minor effects to pets, similar to a cold. There are only a handful of cases around the world linking COVID-19 to pets.

Q: Here's a very difficult question in these troubled times. Can a person who has died from COVID-19 still be an organ donor?

A. Good news here. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the answer is yes. They say there is a very low risk of transmission through an organ. But donated organs, like kidneys, are screened first. They will be rejected if they show presence of COVID-19.

Q: Why is there a shortage of eggs, especially with restaurants closed?

A: The Washington Post and other sources say this is not true. There is no shortage of eggs, or a problem with supply. If you can't find eggs at the grocery store, chances are it's because your neighbors are hoarding them. The good news is grocers have now placed limits on many purchases. The bad news is, egg prices have been rising. Now we have a question for you: scrambled, poached, fried, or sunny side?

Q: Many of us are making face masks. How should we clean them to make sure they are virus free?

A: Here's some tips from both the CDC and New York Medical School. First, wash the mask like you would any other laundry item. Regular detergent will kill any virus. And second, when you remove your mask, try to avoid touching the front surface. Focus on only touching the straps or ear loops.

Q: Ordinary tonic water has quinine in it. Can that treat COVID-19?

A: We reached out to BJC for than answer, and it's no. Infectious disease experts there say the amount of quinine in tonic is so very small, you would have to drink cases at a time to see any effect.

Q: We know adults have been advised to wear face masks. But what about children?

A: The Center for Disease Control says yes, but only for children over two. For children under two, you run the risk of suffocation. Better to just put them in time out.

Q: Is it safe to adopt pets from an animal shelter?

A: It is. The CDC says there is no evidence that pets are a source of COVID-19. If you find a handsome boxer, you can name him Corona.

Q: Is it safe for kids to have playdates with their friends during the COVID pandemic?

A: Clearly, this is a no from the Center for Disease Control. They say children should avoid any playdates. And any children playing outside should maintain a six foot distance.

Q: How is the "stay at home" order being enforced? I still see plenty of vehicles on the road.

A: This is where we are "all in this together." It is up to law enforcement agencies to enforce any orders. Those agencies have asked all of us to do our best to make the orders work.

Q: Can I get COVID-19 from my pet?

A: Both the Center for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association say there is no evidence of pets or other companion animals passing the virus to others.  In fact, there are just a couple of known cases were dogs or cats have been infected.  Your are more likely teaching rover to fetch the newspaper and bring you your morning coffee. 

Q:  It's been 10 days since the stimulus relief bill was passed.  When will I see my check?

A:  It depends on how you do business with the federal government.  How do you receive your tax refund or social security deposit?  Speaking on CNBC this morning, US Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow says if you are enrolled in direct deposit, you should be receiving your stimulus payment beginning next week.  Snail mail checks will begin going out  the first week of May, and that process will continue throughout the month.

Q:  With Missouri now under a stay at home order, what does that mean for daycare centers?

A:   Missouri Governor Mike Parson says daycare centers can stay open, but they must follow the Center for Disease Control guidelines for childcare. 

Q:  Here's a hot one.  Should you microwave your mail to make sure it's germ free?

A:  Absolutely not.  Both American and Canadian health officials say its extremely unlikely you can get the virus from mail or packages.  And there's probably a better chance you can catch your house on fire.

Q: Many of us are making our own masks? Are they helpful? What about scarves?

A: The Center for Disease Control says go for it. Wear the mask, even if it is just a scarf or bandanna. But they emphasize any homemade item will likely only provide a limited benefit. Healthcare workers should only use them as a last resort.

Q: If a person owes the government money for back taxes, will they still get a stimulus check?

A: Good news here if you are in that boat. The Wall Street Journal says you will still get the full stimulus check, without deductions.

Q: Why are people that are overly obese at a higher risk for the coronavirus?

A: Doctors say there are two factors here. First, obesity weakens the immune system, which increases the risk for inflammation. And second, extra weight puts pressure on lungs, which are especially hit hard by the virus.

Q: If a baby is born in 2020, will they qualify as a dependent for a stimulus check?

A: Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal says no, at least not this year. The child would qualify for as $500 tax credit in 2021.

Q: During the stay at home order, is it OK to have an occasional visit with grandchildren?

A: This answer hurts. Washington University infectious disease specialists say no, you need to avoid all contact with family members, even if you are following social distancing and hand washing guidelines. Remember, grandparents are already in a high risk category. One thing is certain in this uncertain time: no matter how long this virus lasts, those grand babies will still love you!

Q: Can I get coronavirus from mosquitoes?

A: The World Health Organization says no. There is no evidence of transmission my mosquitoes. It doesn't mean we have to like them though.

Q: Should I wipe down my own groceries?

A: According to Consumer Reports, that is probably not necessary. The Food and Drug Administration says there is no evidence of transmission from food packaging. On the other hand, the FDA says it certainly can't hurt, especially with cardboard packaging.

Q: Can the flu shot help protect against coronavirus?

A: According to the The Yale school of Public Health, the answer is no. But it can help reduce the number of sick people in the hospital, so they recommend getting the shot.

Q: What about the vaccine against pneumonia? Would that help?

A: Same answer. There is no known vaccine or shot that will protect you against the virus.

Q: Can the wind blow the coronavirus over a greater distance?

A: Doctors at BJC and SLU both say not to worry. Even if the virus was in the air, it would be heavily diluted to matter.

Q: Can C-PAP machines be used as ventilators?

A: The answer to that used to be no, but the FDA has issued emergency guidelines allowing its use in dire emergencies. Be aware C-PAP machines are not as clean as ventilators, and can actually disperse infected droplets in the air.

Q: Can I get the virus through my hands or skin?

A: According to local infectious disease specialists, no, the virus does not travel through your skin. But if you get it on your hands, and then touch your face, you can get it.

Q: Is anti-bacterial soap a better option?

A: According to the FDA, no. They say vigorously washing with soap and water is just as effective.

Q: Can you pass the virus through cash?

A: Both the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization say the virus could live on paper currency, but as long as you wash your hands,the risk is extremely low. The Federal Reserve has looked into this issue, and decided not to issue any warnings.

Q: Are blood donations being tested for the virus?

A. No. The Red Cross says it is not necessary. There is no evidence of transmission through blood. And donors have their temperature and vital signs checked in advance.

So please, keep you questions coming. Email us whatever is on your mind to share@kmov.com. We will take your questions right to the experts, and get you an answer.

Until then, wash up, and stay safe.

coronavirus

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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