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Coronavirus Q&A with Dr. Stephen Prescott

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AARP has been working to promote the health and well-being of older Americans for more than 60 years. In the face of this pandemic, AARP is providing information and resources to help older people and those caring for them protect themselves from the virus and prevent it spreading to others. AARP is compiling facts and resources about coronavirus and how you can protect yourself. We’re updating this information as rapidly as we can to ensure our AARP members have the information they need at www.aarp.org/coronavirus.


Dr. Stephen Prescott, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation president, was kind enough to answer coronavirus questions as we navigate these uncertain times.


We are two weeks into the coronavirus pandemic. What have we learned and what are we to expect for the foreseeable future?

In the U.S., the epidemic began at different times in different places, so it’s difficult to track and know the impact it’s having in specific areas. We desperately need more testing in Oklahoma so we can see what our curve looks like. These statistics will help us decide how long citizens should stay home and businesses remain closed. We want to err on the side of caution and avoid a second wave of cases by lifting restrictions too early. Can we put a date on it? Not at this time.


Oklahoma has more than 500,000 unpaid family caregivers and thousands of grandparents raising grandchildren. What can they do to stay healthy and safe while caring for their loved ones?

Caregivers need to practice physical distancing and step up cleanliness habits as much as their situations allow. Do your best to limit your exposure—and that of those you care for— to people outside your home. Grandparents, people over 60, and those with health conditions that leave them vulnerable need to be extremely careful about limiting their exposure to children. Kids likely have been in contact with many other children, have a hard time keeping physically distant, and, especially if they’re young, aren’t great about sanitary practices.

Disinfect hard surfaces frequently, and encourage frequent hand-washing for everyone in your household. While it’s a challenge to keep young children isolated long-term, it’s for their and your health and safety. If you need help with childcare or meals, contact your local YMCA or your city government to see what services are available in your area.


As long as I practice social distancing, is it okay to go to the grocery store or pharmacy for necessities?

Trips to the grocery store or pharmacy aren’t dangerous as long as you’re sensible. Touch as few things as possible. Don’t get close to people, particularly anyone who’s sneezing or coughing. Just be careful what you touch, and after you put the groceries on the shelf, wash your hands well or, at minimum, use hand sanitizer. If you can, try to wipe down everything you buy when you get home. Or, if it doesn’t need refrigeration, let it sit for a day before putting it away.


Will wearing latex gloves or other equipment help protect me from infection?

Gloves can help block contact with the virus on surfaces, but they have to be used and removed properly to adequately protect wearers. Due to the critical shortage of gloves in hospitals, we’re urging people to donate them to medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. Wearing other gloves you own can be just as effective as long as you wash or sanitize them and wash your hands when you get home.

Masks were not developed to protect the person wearing them. We’re mimicking what surgeons do in the operating room, and that’s to protect the patient, not the doctor. Masks should be put on people who are coughing or sneezing and might spread the virus. It provides a little bit of isolation or containment of the virus. For healthy people, I wouldn’t say don’t wear a mask, but if you use common-sense hygiene practices, you should be fine.


Governor Stitt recently issued an executive order requiring some businesses to close and for at-risk populations, including those over 65, to stay at home. Why are these restrictions necessary and how it will impact the spread of the virus?

One-on-one contact is generally safe. But larger gatherings are dangerous, because they increase the likelihood that someone there has been exposed and could pass the virus on to others. We’re still learning about this virus, and until we know more, it’s best to avoid contact with people who might have the virus and not know it. Because we can’t tell who that is on sight, the prudent thing is to ask people to stay home and avoid anything but necessary contact. It’s really the only way to curb the spread, and we’ve seen it work in other countries like China and Singapore, so there is data to prove it’s beneficial and can “flatten the curve.”

If I have groceries or prescriptions delivered to my home, is there any risk of the virus being on the delivered goods?

Treat it as you would takeout food (see below). Wipe the items down with disinfectant and immediately wash your hands.


How safe is curbside pickup for food? What about food delivery?

In general, takeout food should be safe. If possible, choose a place that you know stresses cleanliness and where servers are wearing gloves. Order items that are cooked rather than fresh foods like salad, because cooking kills the virus. After you get the food home, take the food of out containers, dispose of the packaging, and wash your hands thoroughly before eating.


What about handling mail and packages? Is it safe or should precautions be taken?

Again, you should be fine if, as soon as you open, you dispose of packaging and envelopes and then immediately wash your hands.


If I am showing signs of illness like a fever, is it still safe to use Ibuprofen in light of recent suggestions that it does more harm than good for coronavirus patients?

There’s no real reason to be worried about taking ibuprofen, despite what’s going around the internet. No reliable scientific studies suggest that ibuprofen is bad or dangerous if you have COVID-19.


How do I know the difference between a common cold or spring allergies versus coronavirus?

Cold and allergy symptoms like watery eyes, sneezing and a runny nose seldom cause a fever, which is a key indicator of COVID-19. Try taking an antihistamine and see if your symptoms improve. But if you develop some combination of a high fever, a continuous dry cough and body aches, contact your doctor.


Should I be taking vitamin C supplements to prevent contracting coronavirus? Is this a valid treatment option for those who have been diagnosed?

While researchers are investigating the effects of vitamin C on the coronavirus, no studies have been completed at this point. The vitamin is a key component of a healthy diet, but there is no proof taking it will ward off or treat COVID-19.

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