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CNN  — 

As cases of Covid-19 rise, so do questions and uncertainties about it. In this episode, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta responds to some of the e-mails and voice messages listeners have shared.

You can listen to this episode in your favorite podcast app or read the transcript below.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It’s hard to say how far we are into this pandemic. Some of us have been socially distancing for weeks – others started more recently.

By now, hopefully, those who can are staying at home. Which might mean you have more time than ever to follow news about the coronavirus and question what the future holds.

You’ve sent me a lot of your questions in emails and voice memos – today, I want to spend some time answering them.

I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent. And this is “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”

Question 1

Listener: With so many people touching fresh produce and packages at grocery stores and markets, what measures need to be taken in protecting consumers from contracting the novel coronavirus?

Dr. Gupta: Now, it’s important to point out that coronavirus is not a food-borne illness, but a respiratory illness. You won’t get it from eating food. But experts do recommend wiping down the outsides of canned or wrapped goods. You should be washing your produce anyway, so keep doing that. You should also be sure to wash your hands after unpacking your groceries.

You know the drill: soap and water for 20 seconds. Don’t forget your thumbs.

Question 2

Listener: My family’s in Australia and we were just discussing contingency plans because my mother takes care of my sister’s kids, plus my brother has a disability. They’re all very interconnected. So, my question is, if someone does get exposed and get sick, how can they best self-isolate while still under the same roof?

Dr. Gupta: This is a hard one. If an infected person lives in a shared space, that person should try to keep to a single room as much as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a really helpful home care guide that suggests steps for those living with a sick person.

Some of the recommended precautions include making sure shared spaces have good air flow, having the sick person wear a mask if they’re able to, and using disposable gloves to handle potentially contaminated items like tissues or dishes.

Question 3

Listener: I’m one of the nurses here in Las Vegas. How can we be safe in taking care of the ill if we ourselves aren’t protected properly?

Dr. Gupta: The answer is: You can’t. That’s why this question is crucial and will become even more so as our hospitals attempt to handle the flood of patients.

There are several reasons the United States may not have been equipped to handle this outbreak. According to infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner, a decision was made 20 or 30 years ago to under-build hospital beds because it is so expensive to build beds that aren’t always used. Before that shift, there were generally more hospital beds available than necessary.

When it comes to things like masks and gowns, disruption of the international supply chain is largely to blame. The coronavirus has slowed or stopped production around the world, and we just aren’t able to keep up with the demand. Unfortunately, hospitals’ stockpiles of supplies proved not to be big enough.

It is true that we’ve known this pandemic was coming for some time; since January. We had a pretty good idea of how many hospital beds we would need, how many ICU beds, and how many ventilators. We also knew how much personal protective equipment would likely be used. Unfortunately, for many weeks, we didn’t do enough to ramp up the supply.

Question 4

Listener: Everyone mentions that people most at risk are elderly and people with pre-existing conditions. But pre-existing condition is a really general term, so what does that include?

Dr. Gupta: Well, according to the CDC, some of the underlying conditions that may put you at higher risk include: chronic lung disease and asthma, heart disease, and undergoing cancer treatment.

Anyone with diabetes, kidney failure or liver failure may also be at higher risk.

Think of it like this: In your everyday life, you’re always fighting off pathogens. Most of the time you don’t even realize it. If you have an underlying condition, it makes it more challenging to fight off a virus like this. You may develop a fever, shortness of breath, or a cough more easily than someone who doesn’t have a preexisting illness.

A new study showed that cardiac injury could also be a common condition in hospitalized coronavirus patients.

Now, since hospitals in outbreak hotspots may become overwhelmed with patients, it’s important to know what symptoms are serious enough to warrant a hospital visit. If you have severe shortness of breath, along with persistent pain or pressure in your chest, then you should seek medical attention immediately.

Question 5


I’m here in San Francisco under the shelter-at-home mandate and have worked from home for at least a week now. My question is: How do I talk to my roommate about limiting his outings? I know he cares but I don’t think he is concerned enough to limit his activities and therefore, putting our household at risk.

Dr. Gupta: I hope by now people are taking this virus incredibly seriously, but I can understand the lingering reluctance to follow strict rules like the ones in California.

Living through a pandemic can bring out different reactions in different people, from thinking it’s not their problem to over-responding by buying too much toilet paper.

If you haven’t already, I would suggest talking one-on-one with your roommate or family member and explaining why it’s important to you that they stay at home. You can point them to videos from the World Health Organization, or their favorite celebrity, explaining why social distancing is so important.

It’s also worth reminding them that we truly are all in this together. Never before have we been so dependent on one another. How they behave directly affects your health, and how you behave, affects theirs, as well. So, if they’re not practicing the guidelines for themselves, maybe they’ll practice it for the ones they love.

Question 6


My question is something that I think is on a lot of peoples’ minds. And that is, in your medical opinion, how long do you think this outbreak will last?

Dr. Gupta: Unfortunately, no one can answer this for sure. Some have suggested this outbreak could subside during the warmer months, but so far there is no proof of that. Scientists say it’s too early to tell how or when the pandemic could truly end.

In fact, I first heard this might be a recurring, seasonal illness back in February, when I interviewed the director of the CDC.

And just last week, White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci said the same thing. Here he is on CNN’s live town hall.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: I would not be surprised, given the efficiency with which this virus spreads, that we will see a cycle.

Dr. Gupta: But still, there is no proof so far that that’s going to happen. At this point only time, and the eventual development of a trial-tested vaccine, will tell.

Dr. Gupta: Thanks so much to our listeners for all these questions.

I want to close this episode with a message I received from Dr. Donald Taylor, an emergency room physician in Virginia. He says:

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“I’d like to thank the hospital cleaning staff who are critical to our fight with this virus. They are at high risk for infection every day and have been called upon to work much more intensely than ever before. We, as medical providers, entered medicine to care for patients. We understand the risk. Our courageous cleaning staff, I suspect, don’t get the financial compensation or training we as providers are fortunate to receive. But without them and their hard work, I know our emergency room would fail.”

Thanks for the reminder, Dr. Taylor, and thanks to cleaning and janitorial staffs at hospitals across the country. We’re so grateful.

If you have questions, you can record them as a voice memo and email them to asksanjay@cnn.com – we might include them in our next podcast.

We’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.

For a full listing of episodes of Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction, visit the podcast’s page here.