Becoming asymptomatic without knowing, visiting doctors and cleaning N95 masks: Your coronavirus questions answered

Touro University Nevada medical students check a box of N95 respirators and surgical masks.
Photo credit Ethan Miller/Getty Images
By KYW Newsradio 1060

KYW Newsradio’s Medical Reports are sponsored by Independence Blue Cross. 

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Concerned about coronavirus? You’re not alone. 

KYW Newsradio medical editor Dr. Brian McDonough answers all of your coronavirus-related questions below.

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Q: If someone is asymptomatic and you come in contact with them, could you possibly become asymptomatic to and not even know it?

A: If a person is asymptomatic, they are not showing signs of COVID-19. An asymptomatic person could have COVID-19 and not appear or feel sick, or they could be healthy and not even have COVID-19. 

A person who is symptomatic and has COVID-19 is easy to pick out. 

The tricky part is that if you have never had COVID-19 and come in contact with someone who has it and is not showing symptoms, you can get it. 

This is why testing is so important as it may be the only way to know if someone is positive.

Q: Are we now able to go back to our dentist and doctors for regular visits as opposed to just emergency visits?

A: As various parts of the country start to open up again, it’s important that people have an opportunity to see their doctors, dentists and other health care providers for visits that can’t be done by telehealth technology alone. 

This includes certain elective procedures and important studies that need to be done. The key to the return is safety, and this will be a gradual process where people can be as safe as possible for any exposure to COVID-19. 

Q: As people return to work and there may be concerns about those who are positive with COVID-19, what measures are taken to ensure that those people are no longer infectious?

A: When someone tests positive and has gone through the various stages of COVID-19, they often are ready to go back to work, but the timing must be correct to avoid infecting anyone else. The key to success is consistent testing. 

At the present time, as we start to build an armamentarium of reliable tests, the concept of quarantine for a period of time is one of our best weapons. 

The CDC website has up to the date recommendations. It’s important for employers’ and employees’ health to check this because as we learn more about COVID-19, some of the recommendations are subject to change.

Q: I have a theory about the spread of the coronavirus: I believe it is brought back to your house by people walking around in it. If this virus stays alive, it can stay alive on your shoes and you just brought that into your house. 

A: Full disclosure: I will tell you that during my medical career, I have always known that I should take my shoes off before I entered the house. But since the start of COVID-19, I have been taking them off in the garage. 

There is no doubt that the virus can be on your shoes and it can survive on the surface. My suggestion is to not wear your shoes in the house, and any time you come inside from any location, you should wash your hands thoroughly. 

If you are going to wipe your shoes with an approved germicidal disposable wipe, make sure you are wearing gloves while doing it, and also throw away the gloves and wipe after cleaning and wash your hands.

Q: Can disinfectant sprays be used on N95 masks to kill the virus?

A: In hospital settings, the N95 masks are like gold: they have incredible value as a critical part of PPE and are recycled in a wide variety of ways. The recycling is usually not left to the doctors and nurses, who are instructed to dispose of the N95s after use in recycle areas that are monitored and maintained by those professionally trained to recycle them.

I do not recommend that people try to sterilize masks on their own at home. 

If you have a cloth mask, you can wash the mask but avoid touching the front as this is the area that may have infectious material. I

If you have your own N95, some have suggested putting it in a paper bag for five to seven days before you wear it again. But make sure you touch the straps, not the front of the masks, and always wash your hands after removing or putting on a mask.