The Department of Epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health recently hosted a panel of experts for a conversation about the risks of coronavirus. Panel members from ColoradoSPH included Thomas Jaenisch, MD, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and pediatric infectious diseases; Sam Dominguez, MD, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and pediatric infectious diseases; May Chu, PhD, clinical professor of epidemiology; and Molly Lamb, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology; as well as Rachel Herlihy, MD, MPH, state epidemiologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
In an overview of 2019-nCoV, Jaenisch said the virus can be spread through airborne droplets, like coughing and sneezing, as well as through direct contact with infected people. The time between exposure to 2019-nCoV and experiencing symptoms was reported to be about five days in most people.
Because of the delayed onset of symptoms, people may not know they’re infected. “If people travel before they are symptomatic, it’s hard to identify them,” explained Jaenisch. Unlike SARS or MERS coronaviruses, 2019-nCoV can be transmitted by people before they are experiencing symptoms. “That puts this virus in a different category,” said Jaenisch.
Can gloves and masks prevent coronavirus infection? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people experiencing coughing or sneezing should wear a mask to prevent the spread of illness, as well as those providing care to someone with symptoms, either professionally or at home. People who don’t fit these criteria don’t need masks and can actually reduce mask supplies for those who need them.
“Masks don’t actually block that many pathogens unless they are properly fitted,” said Chu. She noted that masks can help reduce people touching their faces and mouths, so they may help prevent disease indirectly. Relative to gloves, Herlihy said, “The best public health measure we can take is to wash our hands.”