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Health & Wellness

Your Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic Q&A

by Ben McCarthy

Nyack native Ben McCarthy is a Masters in Public Health graduate student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of almost 72,000 Americans and sickened over one million. Uncertainty remains regarding when and how life in the United States will get back to normal. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the coronavirus, the public health efforts to contain it, and research into possible treatments and a vaccine.

How has Rockland County fared in terms of COVID-19 cases?

In terms of cases per capita (number of cases per 100,000 people) Rockland county has the most cases of any county in NYS including counties that make up New York City. This is why it is essential that strict social distancing is continued and enforced and that Governor Cuomo and other state and local officials drastically increase testing capacity and contact tracing.

Governor Cuomo has mandated face coverings for people who leave the house or are in public places. I don’t have a medical mask, what can I do?

Public Health officials believe that covering the nose and mouth may help to reduce transmission of COVID-19 by reducing the amount of virus infected individuals spread to their immediate surroundings. Recent research has indicated that a majority of COVID-19 patients are most infectious before they begin to show symptoms of the disease, making face coverings potentially even more important. It should be noted that even with a mask, strict social distancing should continue to be practiced and visits to public places like supermarkets should be kept to a minimum unless absolutely necessary.

To learn how to make your own mask from normal household items watch the US Surgeon General’s video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPx1yqvJgf4

Nyack Mask Makers is currently working to make masks for healthcare professionals at Nyack Hospital and other healthcare facilities, as well as giving masks to people who need them. Their website has more information on the good work they are doing: https://www.nyackmaskmakers.com/

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Recently, Governor Cuomo has said that NYS has most likely passed the peak of COVID-19 infections and deaths and begun to “flatten the curve.” Does that mean things will begin to re-open soon? When can we expect a full re-opening of the economy?

While both COVID-19 infections and deaths may have begun to level off in recent days, it is important to remember that this is due to strict public health mitigation efforts like social distancing. If things return to normal too quickly and without adequate prevention measures put in place, such as wide spread testing and contact tracing, there will be a second wave of infection and death.

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Right now, it is simply too early to tell when NYS will be ready to re-open the economy. We must all continue to practice strict social distancing in order to continue to flatten the curve.

When can we expect a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19?

The good news is that many vaccines are currently in safety trials right now. The bad news is that even if everything goes right, they will most likely not be ready for 12-18 months.

In terms of therapeutics, there are many clinical trials currently taking place on prospective treatments. But right now it is too early to tell what works and what doesn’t. Many of these trials take time and it is important that they be finished so we know definitively the effectiveness of any potential treatment.

Right now, the most effective tools we have against COVID-19 are public health measures like social distancing.

What have we seen so far in terms of COVID-19 and health disparities?

We have seen very large disparities based on race: the virus is twice as deadly for Black and Latino Americans as it is for White Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the stark inequalities that have always existed in our health system here in the United States. We can only hope that it will shine a light on the social determinants of health, things like economic inequality, equitable access to quality housing and healthcare and healthy food, and how these issues drive health outcomes. We should also remember that the health disparities we are seeing right now during the COVID-19 pandemic did not rise out of the ether; they are the result of political choices and can be changed by policy and collective action.


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What can people do to help physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers besides cheering at 7p?

It is essential that all of our healthcare workers have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) so that they can continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and care for patients. If you have extra PPE to donate, you can do so here: https://getusppe.org/

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If you want to sign up to make PPE for healthcare workers, you can also do so here or with Nyack Mask Makers here. You can also contact your state and federal representatives and demand that healthcare workers are given adequate PPE.

If I get an antibody test for COVID-19 and test positive does it mean I have had COVID-19 and am immune?

There are many issues around antibody testing. First, the tests do not have to be FDA approved. They essentially are unregulated and may not have high specificity or sensitivity–in other words, they may have high rates of false negatives or false positives. Secondly, we don’t know yet what having antibodies to COVID-19 really means. Does it mean people are immune for life, for a short period of time, or not at all? We simply need more research on this front before we can make health decisions based on antibody testing.

Ben McCarthy is currently getting his Masters in Public Health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.



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