COVID-19 FAQs: Answering your questions about the novel coronavirus

April 6th, 2020
antibody testing for COVID-19 in Colorado
A team at the Anschutz medical campus is creating homegrown antibody tests to boost supplies for high-quality, cost-effective tests. Photo courtesy of the Anschutz Medical Campus Office of Communications.

Antibody Testing – Frequently asked questions

What are antibodies?

When we get infections, our bodies create proteins to fight infections. These are called antibodies.

What’s the difference between an antibody test and a test for COVID-19?

A test for COVID-19 detects the presence of the virus itself whereas an antibody test detects antibodies to the virus. Antibody tests can show that a person had an infection in the past. But, it’s possible for people who still test positive to COVID-19 through a viral test to also test positive for antibodies. Medical providers should not use antibody tests to determine if a person has COVID-19. And, some commercial antibody tests have been inaccurate.

How long does it take for a person to create antibodies?

It can take days or weeks for a person to develop antibodies.

Do antibody tests for COVID-19 work?

Many commercial antibody tests do not work well, and therefore can be concerning. That’s because people could assume that positive antibody test results mean they are immune to COVID-19.

Medical experts don’t know yet if antibodies to COVID-19 will protect people from future infections. Researchers are working to learn if antibodies will be protective, and if they are, how long they would last or how many antibodies would be necessary to fight COVID-19. In addition, the virus can change or mutate as it travels from person to person and country to country. That’s what happens with the flu virus. And that’s why we need a new flu vaccine every fall. The virus has changed, and therefore, the flu vaccine must change as well.

Is UCHealth offering antibody testing?

No. Not yet. Experts at UCHealth are working to validate commercial tests to determine if they are accurate. In addition, researchers and lab scientists at the Anschutz Medical Campus are working to create an accurate, high-quality, homegrown antibody test for COVID-19. This test is not ready yet, but could be available within weeks or months. Click here to learn more.

Why is it so hard to create an accurate, high-quality antibody test?

COVID-19 is an infection that stems from a type of virus called a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are very common. Some of them cause common illnesses like the common cold. But, the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is highly infectious and can be dangerous or deadly. Some inaccurate antibody tests are resulting in what are known as “false positives.” These tests may be detecting other coronaviruses, but not SARS-CoV-2. Be very cautious about results from an antibody test.

Does a positive result from an antibody test mean a person is immune to COVID-19?

Even if a test is accurate, medical experts don’t know yet if antibodies for COVID-19 will prevent future infections. More research is needed into the virus that causes COVID-19, antibodies, and possible immunity.

Should I buy an antibody test at a pharmacy and count on its results?

No. You should be very cautious about antibody testing. Work with your doctor if you think you need antibody testing.

If I have a positive result from an antibody test, am I immune? Will I be protected from getting COVID-19 in the future?

Until antibody testing and immunities related to COVID-19 are much better understood, you should continue to follow all recommended precautions to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19, even if you think you have had COVID-19 in the past or even if you’ve gotten a positive result to an antibody test.

Wash your hands regularly. Keep at least 6 feet away from people in public. And, if you are sick, stay home. If you need medical advice, please consult with your provider. If you are concerned about going out for a doctor’s visit, you can easily do a Virtual Visit.

Should I wear a mask?

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have asked people to wear cloth masks when they’re in public doing essential tasks. Mask facts:

women holding a homemade mask. this COVID-19 FAQ. answers questions about wearing masks.
Photo: Getty Images.
  • Medical masks are in short supply in Colorado and around the world.
  • Don’t let a cloth mask give you a false sense of security.
  • To reduce the spread of COVID-19, it’s critical to stay home as much as possible.
  • If you must go out, in addition to wearing a cloth mask, please practice physical distancing — staying at least 6 feet away from other people — and wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water as often as possible.
  • Sick people should stay home. If they must go out, such as to receive medical care, they should wear masks so they can avoid sneezing or coughing on others.
  • Focus on your hands. Even if you are wearing a cloth mask, your hands can get the virus on them. If you then scratch your nose or touch your mouth under a cloth mask, you can get infected. People wearing masks and gloves may also touch their eyes and inadvertently infect themselves.
  • “A mask is only as good as it fits on the face,” said Michelle Barron, an expert on infectious diseases and medical director for Infection Control and Prevention at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital,
  • In order to be effective, masks need to fit tightly around the nose and cheeks and must cover a person’s chin.

What is the recommended treatment for COVID-19?

Most people who get the illness have mild to moderate symptoms and can recover at home. These patients should isolate themselves and can recover from COVID-19 as they would from influenza, by getting plenty of fluids, resting and treating any fevers or body aches with over the counter medications. Click here to learn more about care at home. Click here to learn more about medications for COVID-19.

symptoms, like this women blowing her nose, is answered in this COVID-19 FAQ.
Photo: Getty Images.

If you need help, call your primary care doctor and schedule a Virtual Visit. If you need urgent care after hours, you can do a visit 24/7 with Virtual Urgent Care. If your symptoms suddenly worsen and you have trouble breathing, bluish lips or blue coloring in your face, pressure in your chest, new confusion or an inability to wake up, call 911 immediately.

Treatment varies depending on the severity of the illness. Some people with COVID-19 become severely ill and develop pneumonia and other breathing difficulties. These patients may require hospitalization and high doses of oxygen. Some will need a ventilator to help them keep breathing. And some people who need to go on a ventilator will not survive.

Is ibuprofen safe to take if you suspect you have COVID-19?

Yes. If you have a fever or body aches, it’s safe to take either ibuprofen or acetaminophen. It’s also safe to take alternating doses of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. There was some concern in France about taking ibuprofen, but public health officials in the U.S. and at the World Health Organization have since declared that ibuprofen is safe. Click here to learn more about various medications being used to treat COVID-19.

How long does it take to recover from COVID-19?

The median time from onset to recovery for mild cases is approximately two weeks. For people who are severely ill, recovery can take 3 to 6 weeks and many patients who are critically ill are dying. That’s why it’s so critical to protect vulnerable people, to follow orders to stay at home and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The main symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. These may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Many people have also reported losing their sense of smell or taste. And some patients have gastrointestinal symptoms, like nausea and diarrhea.

symptoms, like this older women holding a thermometer, is answered in this COVID-19 FAQ.
Source: Getty Images.

How, when and where can people get tested?

Availability of testing is improving, but at present, the recommendation is to test people who are hospitalized, along with health care workers, first responders, and people with compromised immune systems who have COVID-19 symptoms. Testing of asymptomatic individuals is not recommended.

If you think you have COVID-19, isolate yourself at home. Do not go out in public since COVID-19 is extremely contagious and there is no cure. Do not go to the pharmacy or the grocery store. Ask healthy people to get you what you need. Quarantine yourself at home for at least 14 days. If you need help from your medical provider, call your primary care provider to set up a Virtual Visit. Most people at home will not be tested because a positive test for COVID-19 will not change the treatment plan.

How many cases of COVID-19 are there in Colorado?

Tests have not been widely available in Colorado or elsewhere in the U.S., so public health officials don’t have good data on the true number of people that have been infected. To see updates on confirmed cases throughout Colorado, click here.

How is the coronavirus spreading?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth — which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay 6 feet away from a person who is sick.

Can people who don’t have symptoms of COVID-19 spread the illness? 

Yes. People can have COVID-19 without having symptoms and “asymptomatic” people may infect others but it is not clear how often that occurs. The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is to avoid spending time around people. Respect the orders to stay home and practice physical distancing — staying at least 6 feet away from other people.

Does the virus live on surfaces and for how long?

woman disinfecting coronavirus by wiping down countertops in the kitchen, details which are answered in the COVID-19 FAQ.
With any of the effective products you use for disinfecting coronavirus, it’s important to read the fine print on the container. In particular, how long does it take to kill viruses?

One study showed the coronavirus could live in lab conditions for several hours on surfaces like cardboard, plastic, steel and glass. But, many factors — from light to temperature and humidity — affect how long the virus can live on surfaces outside the lab. To stay safe from COVID-19, clean surfaces regularly and wash your hands as often as possible. Stay home. Avoid contact with people outside your family.

How long are you contagious if you have COVID-19?

Some people have tested positive for COVID-19 several days after their symptoms have gone away. So, it’s best to be very cautious and to continue to isolate yourself for at least a week after all of your symptoms have passed. Respect the stay-at-home orders, enlist other people to get necessary food and medications for you and call your doctor if you have questions.

If I have a health issue, am I at a high risk? 

Yes, older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions or compromised immune systems are at greater risk for suffering poor outcomes if they get COVID-19. If you fall into one of these categories, stay home and avoid contact with people as much as possible to reduce your chances of getting the virus.

Can people of all ages get COVID-19?

Yes, many people in the U.S. who have become critically ill have been younger people.

ethnic person washing hands, details which are answered in the COVID-19 FAQ.
Source: Getty Images.

How do I stay healthy?  

Stay home. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your face. Practice physical distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from people outside of your family. And, if someone in your home is having symptoms, please try to isolate them as much as possible with their own room and bathroom within your home. Avoid contact with anyone who is sick with cold or flu symptoms. Clean surfaces, counters and your mobile phone.

Does soap work better than hand sanitizer?

Yes. Using hand sanitizer and washing your hands with soap and water both can neutralize the coronavirus that is causing COVID-19. But, soap and water also are able to remove the virus from your hands. Hand sanitizer can’t do that. Learn more.

Which places are open or closed now? 

UCHealth clinics and hospitals are open, but medical providers are trying to keep anyone who is infected with COVID-10 from spreading the illness to others. If you have symptoms, please call your primary care provider. If you need to see your regular doctor of a specialist, you can schedule a Virtual Visit. If you need help after hours, you can do a Virtual Urgent Care visit 24/7.

Beyond health facilities, only essential businesses are open now. Look online or call ahead if you need to buy medicine or food. Some grocery stores have changed their hours and are offering older adults the chance to shop before others. Otherwise, please don’t go out so you can help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Colorado and most other states are under “safe-at-home” orders.

How can I find information I can trust? How do I tell fact from opinion?

Medical experts advise people to be wary of random information they find online.

The best way to be sure you are getting facts rather than opinions is to seek information from sources you can trust including the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

In addition, you can count on UCHealth to provide you with regular updates and answers to your questions from trusted UCHealth medical experts at uchealth.org/covid19.

Should I still leave my house for regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments?

UCHealth is encouraging our patients to continue receiving care during the pandemic. Many doctors are now doing Virtual Visits to keep patients and providers safe. Call your regular doctor or specialist to schedule a Virtual Visit. If you need help after hours, Virtual Urgent Care is a safe and affordable option available 24/7 for COVID-19. Please do not ignore your health care needs during this time.

Can I get sick from COVID-19 more than once?

Researchers don’t know yet whether re-infection can occur. Some patients continue to test positive for the virus for a while after their symptoms have gone away. 

What is UCHealth doing to keep patients safe and maintain a high level of care?

UCHealth providers have deep experience caring for patients with infectious diseases. We are separating patients with suspected infections from healthy patients. Every UCHealth facility has designated negative air pressure rooms where caregivers isolate patients who may have the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Learn more at uchealth.org/coronavirus.

How do we know people will have access to care if they need it?

UCHealth leaders are teaming up with Colorado’s governor and leaders of other hospital systems to constantly monitor the number of available beds, supplies and staffing throughout the state. UCHealth providers are prepared to care for severely ill patients with COVID-19 in addition to other patients. Surgeries began again April 27 at UCHealth hospitals.

 

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About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.