MADDIE SOFIA, HOST:
You're listening to SHORT WAVE from NPR.
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SOFIA: So yeah, the pandemic has been going on for months and months. And every day, scientists are learning new things about the coronavirus, which is why I'm here to tell you that you should feel no shame if you still have a lot of questions about it - questions like, what's the latest on wiping down groceries? And how often should you disinfect your phone? And, very importantly, can you say hi to other people's doggos (ph)? Today on the show, we have answers as part of a special segment I did on another NPR podcast called It's Been A Minute With Sam Sanders. And if you don't know Sam already, you're going to love him.
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SOFIA: But not as much as he loves kissing other people's dogs (laughter). So stick around. I'm Maddie Sofia. And you're listening to SHORT WAVE, the daily science podcast from NPR.
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SAM SANDERS: All right. Let's get to the questions. We got so many from our listeners.
SOFIA: I know it. I know it.
SANDERS: Yeah. We picked a few and showed them to you. So we're going to have you answer them right now. And I'll provide color commentary throughout. You're welcome.
SOFIA: Yeah. Sure. Absolutely.
SANDERS: (Laughter) All right. First question, what's the deal with running? I've heard conflicting things. What's the likelihood of it being spread if someone runs past me?
SOFIA: OK. So this question makes total sense to me because I think there were some scary kind of initial studies around this that have been....
SANDERS: I remember there was one....
SOFIA: Yeah. Yeah.
SANDERS: ...Where it said, like, runners could spread it for 20 feet. And there were these vectors.
SOFIA: Yeah. Yeah.
SANDERS: But that was kind of mildly debunked?
SOFIA: Yeah. It was kind of dismissed. I mean, there were parts of it that made sense. But it wasn't considered to be, like, actually a real-world scenario that was tested. And it's really hard to test that. So you know, when I think about running, of course it depends on what space you're in, right? So outside in fresh air, you're going to have a lower risk. If you're somebody - if you're wearing a mask, if that person's wearing a mask, all of those things kind of factor in. And as best we can tell, Sam, as, you know, somewhat a general rule, the majority of transmission happens in close, indoor situations where you're spending a good bit of time together.
That is why it is absolutely essential to be wearing a mask, especially inside. It doesn't mean that there's no risk if you're outside and there's, you know, only a brief encounter. But it's reduced. So if you're running and you pass somebody for a second, I'm not super worried about that situation. Now, if they cough and sneeze and you just slam right into it, Sam, that's a different scenario. You go home. Wash your face. Wash your hands. But, you know, the experts that I'm talking to are not super worried about that situation.
SANDERS: All right, follow-up question for you on this topic. As a runner, I have heard mixed messaging about wearing a mask when you run. Some folks say, well, you're outside. You're moving fast. Just dodge and weave...
SANDERS: ...And stay away from people.
SANDERS: Others are like, you have to have it on all the time. When - I've done both. But when I've tried to run with a mask on my entire five miles, I end up with a wet mask. And it's like I'm waterboarding myself.
SOFIA: (Laughter) Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, of course, wearing a mask if you can is a good situation. And if you're in a really, really busy city and you can't get away from people - if you're, like, constantly dodging people, I actually do think it's probably a good idea. But if you're in an area where it's a little bit more open, I would say it's probably OK not to wear a mask when you're running.
Again, anytime you have the choice between them, a mask is going to be a safer bet. But if you can get up really early before somebody's out there or go somewhere else and it's, you know, like, either I'm not going to run or I'm going to run without a mask, then I think that's a decision you have to make.
SANDERS: So you're saying we should be doing 3 a.m. runs in cemeteries?
SOFIA: I'm saying, Sam, stop phoning it in.
SOFIA: Get up at 3 a.m. and get this done (laughter).
SANDERS: Get it done. Get it done. Yes. Next question from a listener...
SOFIA: All right. Let's do it.
SANDERS: ...About animals. Can I say hi to other people's dogs? Oh, yeah.
SANDERS: Good question.
SOFIA: ...Is this question from a listener? Or is this question from...
SANDERS: This question is from my heart.
SOFIA: ...ShmamShanders@hotmail.com (ph)?
SANDERS: This question is from my heart because I need to talk to the doggies and make sure they're OK.
SOFIA: (Laughter) OK. So I looked this up because I wasn't sure. And the CDC has weirdly complicated guidance on this. So...
SOFIA: ...Some pets, like dogs or cats, have caught COVID from humans. But the CDC also says the risk of dogs then giving COVID to people is considered low. Like, there's no evidence that you can get it from the fur or the hair of other pets. But...
SANDERS: But if you're one of those owners that kisses your dog on the mouth...
SOFIA: Well, I was just about to say...
SOFIA: ...So - because the CDC still says you should not interact with dogs outside their households. So I'm like, man, I guess the CDC is worried about people getting pets saliva in their mouths. But you shouldn't be macking (ph) on somebody else's dog anyways, Sam. You know what I mean? Don't...
SANDERS: Listen. Listen. If you see a dog and the dog is really, really, really cute...
SOFIA: Oh, my God. You're part of the problem, Sam, part of the problem.
SANDERS: ...You've got to kiss. I cannot miss the kiss. I cannot miss the kiss.
SOFIA: You are going to have to definitely miss the kiss for a while, Sam. But...
SOFIA: But I will say, honestly, you know, briefly, a dog has come up to me in the dog park. Its owner is far away. I have pet it. I'll say it. I have pet it. But this is, you know...
SANDERS: I pet that dog.
SOFIA: Official guidance is leave those dogs alone, Sam.
SANDERS: OK. Understood. Understood. All right. OK. This is one that gives me so much - I think about this question every day. And I get mad about it because no one can tell me what the right deal is. What is the deal with wiping down groceries? And should anyone actually be doing this?
SOFIA: OK. So this is a great question. And again, Sam, it's not, you know, like - it's a level of risk that you're trying to decide here. So I like this question because it really gets to the question about picking up the virus from surfaces, right? So I would say, generally speaking, the contaminated surfaces that I'm worried about most are those like surfaces at hospitals or in small, enclosed spaces without much airflow that a person has been in for a really long time, or surfaces that come in contact with your face or mouth a lot, like a cellphone. Those are surfaces that I'm going to wipe down most of the time. I'm not as worried about a package of Oreos - double stuffed, specifically, to be clear...
SOFIA: ...From the groceries. Like, I'm not that worried about it. So what I do is I wear a mask. I hand sanitize when I'm shopping, certainly after interacting with the cashier. I get home. I unload the groceries. I wash my hands. But, you know, again, this is a decision that I'm making as a healthy human. So if you're particularly worried or you have a condition that makes you susceptible, there's no harm in being extra safe.
SANDERS: OK. Well, this is also - like, this gets to a larger question, which I still ask a lot, is, like, how long can this thing really just live on a surface?
SANDERS: And I'm still not sure we know. And I think it varies by surface and by condition.
SOFIA: It does. It does.
SOFIA: And another thing to think about is just because some virus is on a surface doesn't mean it's still infectious. You know, it doesn't mean there's enough of it to get you sick necessarily. It's all kind of a numbers game. So, you know, surfaces are not something to be totally dismissed. I'm not saying that. But generally speaking, with groceries, that kind of stuff, you can wipe them down if you want to. But that's not the highest-risk scenario I'm worried about.
SOFIA: Gotcha (ph). Gotcha. You should just avoid making out with the cashier's dog at the grocery store.
SOFIA: I mean, Sam, if you can. It sounds like it's going to be a struggle for you.
SANDERS: (Laughter) I don't want people writing in thinking weird things about me and dogs. I am totally aboveboard. OK. OK? All right. Next question. How often should I disinfect my phone?
SOFIA: Oh, yes. Yeah. You know this is a nasty surface, Sam.
SANDERS: Phones are so nasty.
SOFIA: They're so nasty.
SANDERS: Phones are like the toilet seats of public life.
SOFIA: I mean, Sam, do you bring your phone into the bathroom with you? Be honest.
SANDERS: You know, if I'm going to be there a while (laughter).
SOFIA: This is what I'm saying. So you got to be - you've got to be wiping that surface. Like, it's next to your face. It's next to your mouth. We think with coronavirus, if you're getting it from a surface, it's from touching that surface and then touching your hands or mouth. And there's nothing that I put closer to my face than my phone. So I disinfect my phone a lot. I try to do it when I wash my hands because I wash my hands and then I'm going to touch this dirty phone again? I don't think so. So I have put hand sanitizer directly on my phone in a pinch.
SANDERS: Same. Oh, yeah.
SOFIA: It's not the best way. Like, a little bleach wipe will do you good. But it's definitely something you want to be doing.
SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Does alcohol lower my ability to fight COVID?
SOFIA: Sam, it does.
SANDERS: Don't give me - don't...
SOFIA: It does.
SANDERS: Don't - don't - don't - don't depress me with this answer.
SOFIA: I will say you will be devastated to know that alcohol does suppress the immune response as a general rule, especially if you're drinking a lot. And the NIH even put out this statement that says if you're drinking when you're exposed to coronavirus, it hampers your immediate ability to stave off infection.
SANDERS: OK. OK.
SOFIA: I know. I know. And the other thing to think about here, Sam, though, is when you're drunk, you're also making decisions that you might not make when you're sober, Sam. I mean, this accounts for my entire junior year of college. You know what I mean? Like, there are decisions that I wish I could undo.
SANDERS: You know?
SOFIA: So it's not just about your immune system. It's also about, how close are you going to get to somebody? How loud are you going to talk? So unfortunately, Sam, for you, I can hear it in your voice, you're sad. But there are a lot of good reasons not to be drinking in a large group of people right now - at least excessively.
SANDERS: OK. All right. Next question. If I get a piece of hair stuck in my mouth while wearing my mask, it feels like an existential dilemma. What should I do? All right. Sorry. Just sidebar real quick. I'm the guy in the restaurant where, if I see a piece of hair in my food, I'm like, well, the hair got cooked. We're good.
SANDERS: And I just eat it. I really, like, I don't care.
SOFIA: (Laughter) Well, I'm glad you have - honestly, for this answer, I'm glad you have a pro-eating-hair mentality because I will say, as a person who has worked in a lab with infectious pathogens, when I'm trying to touch my face and, like, one little tiny stray hair gets out of my hair tie, I will say you learn to eat that hair, Sam. It's part of the journey.
SANDERS: Eat the hair. Eat the hair (laughter).
SOFIA: But I do think, you know, it depends on where you are. If you have a safe space to take your mask off, deal with the hair, wash, hand sanitize, put that mask back on - I don't have time for all that. So you just eat that hair. You be strong, you know.
SANDERS: Eat that hair. Also, let's be real here. Most hair is cleaner than your cellphone.
SOFIA: (Laughter) It's probably true, Sam.
SANDERS: 'Cause a lot of folks out here wash their hair more than their phones.
SOFIA: (Laughter) Ew. That's true.
SANDERS: I speak truth. I know y'all don't want to hear it, but you need to. OK. Next question. Can you contract COVID from a swimming pool?
SOFIA: Well, well, well, finally, I have some good news, Sam Sanders.
SANDERS: Thank you, about time.
SOFIA: So, according to the CDC, there's no evidence that you could pick up COVID from pool water, like, just from being in a pool with somebody who had COVID.
SANDERS: 'Cause there's chlorine in it. I know how this works.
SOFIA: Well, there's a lot of situations going on. And one of them is that it's diluted, right? So it's like diluted in a bunch of other, I mean, a bunch other stuff. Let's be honest. But so what I would say is that, like, I would never go to an indoor pool right now.
SOFIA: You know, I would be really careful about social distancing outside the pool, around the pool. Like, as soon as I get back to my little chair, I'm putting my mask on for sure around all these people that I don't know. And I wouldn't be getting closer than 6 feet. So you still have to keep yourself kind of away from people while you're in the pool. Like, I wouldn't go into a super-crowded pool. But the water itself should not get you sick.
SANDERS: OK. Good to know. Last question, actually. Oh, a heart-wrenching question. How do I smile at people while wearing a mask?
SOFIA: Honestly, Sam. Yeah. Wow. I mean, the emotional range of these questions... it
SANDERS: It's a lot. It's a lot.
SOFIA: It's a good question, Sam. I guess with your eyes? I don't know. I've also found scientifically that waving works.
SOFIA: But, you know, smile with your eyes, scream inside your heart - #2020. This is where we are, you know?
SANDERS: Wow. Wow. Can we make T-shirts that say that? Smile with your eyes, scream inside your heart. I love it.
SANDERS: Well, thank you for answering my and other listeners' COVID questions. And thanks to those listeners for sending the questions in - Jessie (ph), Hannah (ph), Katherine (ph), Sarah (ph), Marisol (ph), Natalie (ph), Alyssa (ph) and Annie (ph). I will add one last follow-up question based on seeing all these questions come in. A lot of people have so much anxiety around coronavirus and this pandemic. It's approaching, like, OCD. How can people throughout their day take care of their anxiety around this pandemic?
SOFIA: Yeah. I mean, Sam, this is a big question, right? Like, there's something to be said about us knowing that we're going to be in this for a while, right? And that's pretty scary. But I think one thing that gives me a little bit of solace and a little bit of hope is that we're not helpless in this situation. You know what I mean? There are things we can do to minimize our risks. There are things we can do to take care of our essential workers who are keeping this country afloat right now. And that is trying to take care of each other, trying to take care of your mental health, you know, trying to exercise outside when you can. And know that we do have some agency here. We can make changes that can help us get to the other side of this, however long that will be. And so sometimes that's something that I hang onto.
SANDERS: Yeah. Pet your dog. Don't kiss your dog. And go outside.
SOFIA: I mean, don't - certainly don't be kissing other people's dogs, Sam. We need to have a talk on the way home in the car about this.
SANDERS: (Laughter) But they're so cute. They're so cute.
SOFIA: Oh, my God, Sam. Get your mouth off these dogs.
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SOFIA: Thanks to Sam Sanders for having me on It's Been A Minute, which is a great show if you want a weekly digest of the news that will help you process events without feeling overwhelmed by them. We've got a link to their podcast feed on Apple and Spotify in our episode notes. I'm Maddie Sofia, back next week with more SHORT WAVE from NPR.
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