Evanston Public Health Manager Greg Olsen, left, and Dr. Vishnu Chundi, Chair of Infectious Diseases at AMITA Health Saint Francis Hospital, answered questions from community members about what to do during this time of the coronavirus pandemic..

 From the advisability of wearing masks in public to the more socially-delicate question of whether it is safe for a family member to visit her boyfriend during the pandemic, local health leaders provided some fact-filled — and candid responses — to community members in a Facebook Live session on the Coronavirus April 3.

In the nearly one hour session, broadcast over the City’s Channel 16, Evanston Public Health Manager Greg Olsen and Dr. Vishnu Chundi, Chair of Infectious Diseases at AMITA Health Saint Francis Hospital provided an overview of the Coronavirus and answered community members concerns about some of the situations that have arisen in response to it.

Their overall message: Hand washing and social distancing remain the most effective  protections against preventing the disease’s spread.

Here is an edited version of some of the questions and answers in the session, which can be viewed in full on YouTube.com under “CORONAVIRUS Q&A 4-3-2020.”

Question: How is the virus transmitted?

A. (Dr. Chundi) The virus is probably transmitted by droplets — a small percentage is transmitted by airborne and that takes very specialized circumstances. And the majority afterwards is transmitted by your hands: And so the social distancing that’s currently taking place is a very important way of preventing transmission.

Q. How many known cases does Evanston have?                                                                                                                    

A.(Mr. Olsen) So currently as of today [he was speaking on April 3], Evanston has 97 confirmed cases. [The City has since surged to 124]. And just to kind of put that in perspective and get a feel for our neighboring communities north of us — to the north of us, Wilmette has about 45 confirmed cases and that’s data that was given to us by Cook County; Skokie has about 108 cases, and Chicago has 3,427 cases [as of the April 3 date of the broadcast]. When you compare that to the State of Illinois, Chicago accounts for roughly 45% of the cases in Illinois currently. So in Illinois we have 7,695 confirmed cases, and over the next couple of weeks we can expect to see those numbers continue to increase.Q. How does the City track the number of local Covid-19 cases?                                                                                                                                             

A. (Mr. Olsen) We use a database that’s defined by the Illinois Department of Public Health. Any time an Evanston resident is confirmed positive from Covid-19, we get notified of it, and our communicable disease specialists reach out to the confirmed cases and conduct a very thorough interview, wanting to know specifically any close contacts that that individual had. And then those close contacts are then interviewed themselves and asked to stay in quarantine. Right now it’s about 14 days from the last known exposure.

Q. Do health care workers have the equipment they need to be safe?

A. (Dr. Chundi): The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that we don’t have enough — because the whole world is looking for this equipment and most of the masks are made in China and other countries. And so the N-95 masks that people talk about everywhere — that are kind of like the new Apple Watch —those are in short supply and we’re conserving them in hospitals, by basically using the same N-95 mask, unless they get soiled, all day. Surgical masks are also in short supply from our suppliers, so we know there’s a limited supply, so we’re careful with the masks. Before we used to use them as single-use masks; now, we’re using them most of the day. Some of the hullabaloo about when the federal government is going to be releasing stock is real, because this is going to go on months, not days.                                      

A. (Mr. Olsen): And just to piggyback on the PPE (Personal protective equipment): The State of Illinois is accepting donations and so is the City of Evanston. So if you have PPE’s you’d like to donate, go to the City if Evanston website (cityofevanston.org) and on the left banner there’s an icon that says, “How can you help?” and if you click there you’ll be able to submit a form saying what PP (Personal Protection equipment) you have to donate. 

Q. If someone in my building is diagnosed with Covid-19, will residents be notified?

A. (Mr. Olsen) When it comes to health information, it’s kind of tricky to navigate when it comes to HIPPA [The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996]. Currently the individual is just required to isolate at home. It’s up to them if they want to give out that information. If they work as a health care worker, if they work in a sensitive occupation, they would notify their employer. But their first line of defense that they should do is to stay home and isolate for the designated period of time. 

Q. Is it safe for my daughter to visit her boyfriend? Both of our households have been staying at home with the exception of essential trips, and no one has shown any symptoms.

A. (Dr. Chundi): The answer is no. And the reasoning behind that is actually a publication that happened yesterday from Singapore — that shows that with the virus, people have an asymptomatic period, which means they show really no signs of infections, no runny nose, no sore throat, no cough, no fever, no diarrhea, no muscle aches … for about 70 up to 72 hours, before they show any of these symptoms. These people are shedding small amounts of virus. And so, visiting somebody may put you at risk, because this is like the ultimate game of cooties. Remember the cooties game we used to play as children? So “Tag, you’re it,” but it could be you’re being tagged from five people away.

Q. What is the current recommendation for wearing masks? Should one wear a mask in public?

A. (Dr. Chundi): Wearing something around your face when there’s a high prevalence of the Coronaviris is probably better than wearing nothing, in case someone’s coughing around you. But for the most part, the problem with wearing masks is how people handle their masks — they wear them like chin warmers; they put it on top of their heads; and they do all sorts of things. But wearing a mask in public show people that you are going to increase your social distancing and decrease the amount of touching [of your face with] the masks.

A. Mr. Olsen: It’s more of a source control. It may not protect you as well as an N-95 mask from incoming [exposure.] But it’s designed for, if you’re asymptomatic and you begin coughing, to protect the individuals around you as a source control.

[Shortly after this Q&A, the CDC made a stronger recommendation, which appears on its website: “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”]  

Q. I’m set to move from an apartment to a condo. Is it safe to move right now?

A. (Mr. Olsen): As we talked about earlier: this virus is a community spread. So when you go out into the public, when you leave your residence, when you leave your home, you want to follow the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines. Whether or not you’re moving from to a new condo or you’re going to buy groceries, you want to follow the CDC guidance of washing your hands often as the doctor mentioned earlier. 

Hand hygiene plays an incredibly important role. Even if you have a mask on, even if you have gloves on when you take your gloves off you still want to wash your hands because sometimes when we have gloves on, we have masks on, we feel like we’re Superman and nothing can hurt us but those aren’t replacements for proper social distancing and hand washing. 

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.