Coronavirus misconceptions: Your questions answered

Here are some of the most common misconceptions about COVID-19 and the coronavirus in Israel and around the world.

Magen David Adom workers and Shaarei tsedek hospital medical team, wearing protective clothing, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus seen after evacuating a man with suspicion for Coronavirus at the new coronavirus unit at Shaarei Tsedek hospital in Jerusalem on March 31, 2020 (photo credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)
Magen David Adom workers and Shaarei tsedek hospital medical team, wearing protective clothing, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus seen after evacuating a man with suspicion for Coronavirus at the new coronavirus unit at Shaarei Tsedek hospital in Jerusalem on March 31, 2020
(photo credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)
Since our previous article on common misconceptions about the coronavirus, we have received an outpouring of interest from the community about addressing additional myths and misconceptions surrounding COVID-19. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about COVID-19 and the coronavirus in Israel and around the world!
Be Test-savvy
Why can’t everyone get a test? Tests are scarce right now, although every country is currently ramping up their testing capabilities: Germany announced this week they are able to perform up to half a million PCR tests per week, and the WHO stepped up its provision of testing kits. Due to the widespread nature of the pandemic, even once testing capabilities increase, it will still take a long time to test a large proportion of the population, which is why countries are also investing in vaccine research while promoting quarantines and social distancing. Meanwhile, the limited number of tests need to go to front-line workers in hospitals and other essential servicepeople, both to remove them from duty if they are infected, and to protect their patients and colleagues from becoming infected with COVID-19 as well.
Eventually, once social distancing has reduced the frequency of new cases, an effective testing apparatus will be critical to preventing future outbreaks and quenching the current one. South Korea’s success at quickly curbing new infections due to its early investment in test kits and testing infrastructure is now the global model for this method: anyone with even the slightest suspicion of having been exposed or of being high-risk, regardless of symptoms, gets tested at drive-through testing centers to isolate new cases. Many other countries are following South Korea’s lead, with Israel opening the first drive-through testing center in Tel Aviv this week, and Magen David Adom volunteers going door-to-door to give tests to socially isolating folks in Jerusalem.

But what if I think I had COVID-19?

If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms, or have them yourself, the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to self-isolate for 2 weeks and monitor yourself for severe fever or shortness of breath. If symptoms get serious, do not head to the hospital on your own, stay home and call emergency services (all suspected COVID-19 cases are expected to do so, even non-life-threatening ones). Even if symptoms are mild, stay home to prevent spread and keep yourself safe.
Can loss of sense of smell and taste be a symptom of coronavirus?
Yes, and it has been confirmed, albeit mostly through anecdotal evidence. Physicians and scientists around the world have reported anosmia, loss of smell, and ageusia, loss of taste, in a large percentage of their diagnosed patients. In countries where testing is widespread, like South Korea, the symptom is less common, totaling about 30% of diagnosed patients. In Germany, where the criteria for being allowed to get tested was more particular at the time of the study (have to be symptomatic, have had known exposure, or have travelled recently), two thirds of patients reported these symptoms. In a letter by the president of ENT UK, the branch for Ear Nose and Throat doctors of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, it was even found in patients who were otherwise asymptomatic:
“There have been a rapidly growing number of reports of a significant increase in the number of patients presenting with anosmia in the absence of other symptoms – this has been widely shared on medical discussion boards by surgeons from all regions managing a high incidence of cases. Iran has reported a sudden increase in cases of isolated anosmia, and many colleagues from the US, France and Northern Italy have the same experience.” However, we must reiterate that it is not seen in all COVID-19 patients, so you can still have coronavirus if your sense of smell and/or taste remains intact.
Are they or will they be able to test previous infection or immunity to coronavirus?
Recent estimates from the scientific and medical communities on the number of asymptomatic or very mild cases of COVID-19 range from 50-90%. The current gold-standard test, which is an RT-PCR test that takes time to perform, can only detect copies of the viral genome while they are still present in your body. However, once your immune system fights off the infection, it is expected that you will have a set of antibodies to resist future infections.
Scientists are currently developing several antibody-based tests to determine if you have previously contracted COVID-19 and are immune. This takes time, as antibodies are tricky to work with in the best of times and this test must be extraordinarily accurate in order to give epidemiologists an accurate picture of a population’s herd immunity. Eventually, widespread antibody testing will help clarify who is safe to go back to work first; Germany has already proposed to issue ‘Immunity Certificates’ to folks with COVID-19 antibodies, but we will need to wait until these tests are ready and accurate enough to be reliable.