Surviving COVID-19: Best Practices and Tips to Protect Yourself and Others

March 2020
Topics: Public Health, Epidemiology, Health, Clinical Medicine
Dr. Yaakov S. Weinstein, The MITRE Corporation
Dr. Carl B. Giller, The MITRE Corporation
Dr. Lauren E. Quattrochi, The MITRE Corporation
Dr. Tiffany M. Tsang, The MITRE Corporation
Kathy T. Huynh, The MITRE Corporation
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In this paper, we recommend protective measures for the general public and identify misinformation in the “fact vs. fiction” section, excerpted below. MITRE experts in infectious diseases, microbiology, and virology have researched this scientifically accepted and verified information to date regarding COVID-19.

COVID-19: FACT VS. FICTION

There is a lot of COVID-19 information being distributed. To ensure you have the most accurate information, here are a few opinions of scientific experts.

You can get COVID-19 twice: UNCLEAR
Like many other infectious diseases, once you are infected, your body develops a highly effective immune response that prevents reinfection, or a second infection. This is the basis of vaccines. They initiate the development of a long-lasting, robust immune response. However, there is the possibility that the pathogen can mutate and your immune response will then no longer recognize the new mutated pathogen after the viral part that is targeted by the immune system has changed.

There are some reports circulating that people can catch COVID-19 again. Scientists believe these reports may stem from erroneous testing or from people who have not completely recovered. As of now, there is no evidence from the research community that the virus has mutated. One study performed by researchers from a medical university in China evaluated the similarities of 95 full-length sequences from this virus’ strains and determined they were 99% similar at the amino acid level. 

However, a recent study analyzing the immune response generated by COVID-19 indicates that almost 50% of recovered individuals enlisted in a study had low to medium-low levels of neutralizing antibodies. These neutralizing antibodies are known to be indicative of immunity against future infections, so these results suggest that a significant percentage of individuals who recover from COVID-19 may lack immunity for subsequent SARS-CoV-2 infections. These results were published in a preprint journal and are not yet peer reviewed; more studies are needed to understand the long-term immune response and risks of reinfection. At this time, the WHO affirms that reinfection is a possibility.

Clearing the virus with water: FALSE
There is an article circulating that claims people should take a few sips of water every 15 minutes at least, because if the virus gets into your mouth, drinking water or other liquids will wash them down through your throat and into the stomach. Once there, your stomach acid will completely kill the virus. This is FALSE! While it is good to keep hydrated, the main route of infection is through inhalation of respiratory droplets. Drinking water to wash down the virus into the stomach will not prevent infections via the lungs.

Holding your breath for 10 seconds: FALSE
Similarly, this claim was shared widely through the internet and by TV personalities. There is no scientific literature to support this. If you notice a dry cough, trouble breathing, or shortness of breath in conjunction with a fever, seek medical attention.

Young people don’t get sick: FALSE
Data from CDC indicates that adults aged 20-44 are still susceptible and require hospitalization, some needing intensive care. Thus, if you think COVID-19 will not impact you, think again! Additionally, keep in mind that protecting yourself also means protecting the older generations who may be more susceptible. Preventing your illness will also help to “flatten the curve,” which means slowing down the speed of new cases through dampened infection rates. This slowed rate of new cases will also protect our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

Blood Type O patients have improved outcomes against COVID-19: POSSIBLY
A new study from China of 2,173 patients has revealed that patients with blood group O experience lower risk for COVID-19 infection compared to patients with other blood types. In contrast, patients with blood type A were the most susceptible to acquiring COVID-19. The exact mechanism for this phenomenon is still under investigation by the scientific community. 

Masks in public are only for people with preconditions or weak immune systems: FALSE
Mask are designed to keep your saliva from encountering other people. When we talk, sneeze, cough, or even breathe, small droplets of mucus are expelled into our environment. In fact, sometimes a sneeze can reach upwards of eight yards (or 24 feet) away! The smaller the particle, the farther it travels. Don’t believe it? Check out the research by MIT Professor Lydia Bourouiba on mucosal clouds that shows videos on mucus dispersion. Masks are an essential barrier to protect others from exposure to you, especially if you are pre-symptomatic (i.e., before disease) or asymptomatic (i.e., not showing disease). Wearing a mask expresses a courtesy to others, acknowledging that you care about their health and wellbeing. Additionally, wearing a mask protects you by limiting the number of times your hands contact your face, which could expose you to germs on your hands. As CDC recommends, everyone should be wearing masks that adequately cover their nose and mouth in public when social distancing cannot be maintained—no exceptions.

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