Brad Byrd: We are asking questions about COVID-19 to get answers to you during the pandemic. Today our health analyst as always is Dr. Payal Patel-Dovlatabati, Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Evansville. Dr. Payal, let’s talk about face masks. We know they give people wearing them a tool to stop transmitting the virus but do they offer any possible protection to the people actually wearing them?

Dr. Payal Patel-Dovlatabati: Yes, they really do. And really the whole point of face masks and cloth face coverings is for those who have the disease but also for those who are asymptomatic. Up to 55% of people who are infected with COVID are asymptomatic. They experience no symptoms at all, which is why it’s essential for everyone to wear some type of covering so they are preventing the spread of disease but also at the same time for someone who is not infected at all, wearing that mask or covering provides a barrier to the mouth and nose, so there are less likely to inhale those COVID aerosols. So yes, they are a benefit both ways and face masks and cloth coverings are really part of this big comprehensive approach. In addition to social distancing and good hand hygiene is a three pronged effort in order to remain safe and healthy.

BB: And that takes us right to this question- those mass, very tight gatherings this holiday weekend, we saw hundreds nationwide this weekend throughout the country. How long will it take to see if there are possible spikes caused by this because a lot of these folks were not wearing face masks?

PP: Not at all, nor were they practicing social distancing. So typically, the incubation period for COVID is 14 days. On average, though it can be four to six days. So I would say within two weeks, we should see some spikes as a result of this.

BB: fall school classes a little more than two months away. That’s not that far out in many state governments are waiting on data on whether to reopen K-12 classrooms. Now what would have to happen to safely reopen these classes considering the age group- we’re talking about kindergarteners, all the way up to high school seniors.

PP: This going to involve much planning and a lot of effort, the CDC has released guidelines to guide those in schools to safely reopen. But again, you have to maintain that social distancing, those younger children need to know that they have to have that good hand hygiene and they can’t just run up to other kids and perhaps schools may even have to stagger course intervals, so there aren’t many students in one class at one time. So there are a lot of approaches to this, but it is going to involve significant planning. And again, the CDC has released guidelines to help administrators plan to reopen safely.

BB: Let’s talk about testing and your job. If you learn someone you work with tests positive, what should you do?

PP: Well, if you have had close contact with that individual, then you should self quarantine for 14 days to see if you developed symptoms. However, if you did not have any contact with that individual, then there is no need to self quarantine. But it’s important to just monitor those symptoms.

BB: talking about symptoms. asymptomatic. We have been hearing about this and there are so many types of symptoms out there for COVID-19. But let’s talk about flu symptoms and compare those with COVID-19 symptoms and asymptomatic individuals in this situation. Is that the same type of dynamic that you have with the flu if you’re asymptomatic?

PP: Right, it’ll be interesting, this flu season coming up. Flu symptoms and COVID symptoms are somewhat similar. However, with COVID, you do experience a higher fever, as well as significant shortness of breath, which is why the flu shot will be heavily pushed this flu season. So if more people aren’t vaccinated, and if people are experiencing these respiratory type symptoms, then it’ll be easier to diagnose for COVID. However, it’s important to remember those who are asymptomatic, do not experience any symptoms at all. So this season, it’ll be really interesting with having the flu and COVID at the same time.

BB: What can we learn about COVID-19 if we get testing to see if we are positive for antibodies?

PP: Antibodies actually develop our body’s natural immune response when fighting an infection and they usually develop after a person has recovered, one to three weeks after they’re fully recovered. So in testing for antibodies, especially in reopening businesses and schools and universities, it’ll be really important. So if a person has those COVID antibodies, we know they’ve been affected, we know they’re immune for some period of time. And that way we can really assess what their risk of COVID is in a workplace or in a school setting or even at the university level setting, so it will really be key in order to reopen safely.