A panel of campus experts answered questions and provided support and guidance for the Eastern community in a virtual COVID-19 panel discussion on Tuesday, March 17. Students, faculty and staff supplied topics ranging from individual health questions, to the spread of the virus, to travel concerns.

The panel included:

  • Krisztian Magori, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics
  • Katie Taylor, PhD, Assistant Professor of Exercise Science
  • Sarah Mount, EdD, Program Director, Undergraduate Public Health
  • David Line, PhD, Program Director, Masters of Public Health

Here are some of the questions and answers:

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 and how can I distinguish it from a common cold?

  • Magori: The symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. The most unusual symptom is the shortness of breath; most other infections do not cause shortness of breath. Also, with the flu, it is more common to have a headache or a sore throat—however, these symptoms are not common in COVID-19 patients. And if you see someone with a runny nose or sneezing, do not think they have the virus—those are not the symptoms of COVID-19.

Why can’t we just take normal flu precautions?

  • Line: Because COVID-19 spreads more easily, it hides longer and it is more lethal. Until we have public immunity it is going to continue to rebound and visit us again. We need to eliminate that.
  • Magori: This is new. None of us have ever been exposed to this before, so it is very dangerous.

Will a face mask help protect me from catching COVID-19?

  • Taylor: The masks that you can buy in the grocery stores are not going to completely protect you from transmission. Yes, they can help lessen the direct-spread of respiratory droplets, however they do not protect your hands from picking up the virus from other surfaces. If you choose to wear one, do not hoard them, they are more important for healthcare workers or high-risk patients. The CDC does not recommend the use of masks for all people.

What can I do to help make the university safer in this situation?

  • Magori: I would recommend social distancing, or what I would call personal distancing. Not just from people who are symptomatic, because we know that people can be infectious even when they have no symptoms. Bars, clubs and beach parties are generally not a good idea right now.
  • Taylor: Wash your hands, clean commonly used surfaces and use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when soap and water is not available.
  • Mount: I came up with a challenge for all of you. Pick two people during the spring quarter that you’re going to reach out to. Someone that you might not have normally reached out to. Reach out to them—put it on your calendar right now. Twice this quarter reach out them and see how they are, see how their quarter is going. We need to focus on our social connections with each other.
  • Line: Support the transition to online classes by supporting the faculty and administration.

If I contract COVID-19 and recover, am I then immune?

  • Magori: The research shows that patients who recover are no longer spreading the virus. Research also shows that your body’s immunity will protect you from a re-infection for up to two years.

What about my pets?

  • Magori: There are other coronaviruses that do impact our pets. Those typically do not impact humans.

Is the virus only potentially life threatening to older people or those with weakened immune systems?

  • Mount: Those are the populations currently seeing the most severe cases. However, we should not overlook another at-risk population and that is those with a low socioeconomic status. Research shows people with a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to contract and spread disease.
  • Line: One study by age group shows that for those people in a higher socioeconomic status, the greatest risk of complications or death is for those over the age of 70. In lower socioeconomic populations, the at-risk age drops to 55 and older.

 What about students with other health conditions?

  • Taylor: People with weakened immune systems are thought to be at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19. This can be caused by age or having an autoimmune disease. You are also thought to be at higher risk if you have lung disease or cardiovascular disease. There is thought to be more complications from COVID-19 for those people.

In closing, each expert offered advice to help the Eastern Community get through this public health emergency and support one other:

  • Mount: Public health isn’t about your own individual health, it’s about the health of the public at large. Taking care of yourself is really important to support the health of the community. Spend some time in nature, exercise, journal—one day you’re going to want to look back at how you handled this.
  • Line: Try to help each other. Let’s expand our relationships with others.
  • Taylor: Take these two weeks [spring break], take some of those opportunities that are not going to put you at risk, and be ready when you come back to spring quarter. Be patient with your faculty who are learning how to teach online and give lectures on Zoom. We’re all in this together. Don’t socially isolate yourself. Though you are physically distancing yourself, make sure you keep your social partnerships.
  • Magori: If you feel inconvenienced or upset with the changes or closures, think about how it is going to save someone’s grandparent or parent or sister.