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10 questions about coronavirus - part one.

11. Does hand sanitizer kill the coronavirus? 

 Yes, but only if it is alcohol-based. Most viruses on your hands will die if exposed to a disinfecting product with at least 60 percent alcohol content.

Viruses are much more resistant to disinfectants than bacteria, but the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has a lipid coating which is destroyed by alcohol. The disinfectant should be rubbed onto hands until dry.

Most antibacterial products available on the market contain this amount of alcohol. However, the very name "antibacterial" does not guarantee the product will also be effective against viruses. Some disinfectants only contain antibacterial substances that are harmless against viruses.

For decades, there were products on the market containing a strong antibacterial agent, triclosan, which could be found in everything, from soap to toothpaste. However, research has shown that triclosan can be harmful to the human hormonal system, and the US Food and Drug Administration banned its use in hygiene products in late 2017.

Keep in mind the gel is only a last resort. If you can, it is much more highly recommended to wash your hands with soap. The longer and more thoroughly we wash our hands the better (at least 30 seconds).

12. How should I properly dry my hands? 

After washing your hands, make sure to also dry them well, preferably with a disposable paper towel, which you should then use to turn off the tap. From a hygienic perspective, paper towels are more effective than air dryers because they are faster and more thorough. Moreover, hand dryers are covered in bacteria and viruses.

13. What about social interactions during the pandemic?

According to the information for senior citizens provided by the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate, a distance of at least 1-1.5 m should be kept from a person who coughs, sneezes or has a fever.

The French Ministry of Health is asking people to avoid kissing and shaking hands in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, France Bleu Radio reported. As the Health Minister Olivier Véran explained - "bise,” a kiss greeting, has been banned "for an indefinite period of time.”

Lately, Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer did something that could be considered a faux paus - he rejected Chancellor Angela Merkel's outstretched hand. 

But instead of criticizing him, she smiled and praised his concern for safety measures.

The French have approached the ban with a grain of salt and a dose of good humour. Public opinion asks whether the next Champions League games will start without the traditional handshake between players and referees. People are also wondering how to greet each other: whether to wave their hands, hug, or imitate Barack Obama’s “fist bump.”

Meanwhile, the WHO reports that the coronavirus can survive outside the body (on skin and surfaces) from a few hours up to even a few days.

Some of the occupational health services in China recommend abstaining from showing affection through touch or a kiss.

Epidemiologists claim that limiting physical contact can help slow down the proliferation of the disease, which spread around several dozen countries in only two months.

Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota, believes that limiting physical contact, especially in places affected by the pandemic, is one of the more effective protective measures. He claims that this approach also makes sense when we interact with strangers - people we can't be sure whether they are contagious or not.

In Singapore, India, Russia and Iran, public health authorities encourage people to make phone calls (additional lines are available) rather than talk in person.

In Japan, where the traditional greeting is a bow and physical contact between colleagues or business partners is strictly limited, it may be easier for people to follow such precautions. Similarly, in China - during one of his recent speeches, Chinese President Xi Jinping even suggested that shaking hands to greet each other is not a good idea.

Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist heading the global branch of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, recommends common sense, i.e. when coughing, cover your mouth with an elbow or handkerchief, use disposable wipes and frequently wash your hands. 

The recommendations of the World Health Organisation are similar.

Meanwhile, In Iran and Lebanon, video tutorials showed a group of friends greeting each other by ... touching the soles of their shoes.

American etiquette coach, William Hanson, in an interview for CNN admitted that the best and safest greeting during a health emergency would be to use an open hand gesture. This is especially important when we want to greet a large number of people or interact with strangers.

In this case, to make eye contact and address the person you want to say hello to directly should be enough.

Dr Tom Freidan, former director of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), believes that another good way to say hello would be to use the Asian "namaste" – folding your hands on your chest and bowing your head.

Dr Lisa Ackerley, a British Royal Society public health adviser, says we shouldn’t be panicking because of the epidemic, but we should avoid handshakes and kisses on the cheek whenever possible. 

However, if we are not sure whether we can avoid a personal greeting, or if we are afraid doing so might be considered rude, we should always remember to wash or discreetly disinfect our hands before touching our face.

14. How can I cover my sneeze to avoid spreading germs?

While coughing or sneezing, we should always remember to cover our mouth and nose with a bent elbow or a tissue, dispose the tissue in a closed trash can, and wash or disinfect our hands immediately after that. Covering your mouth and nose while sneezing helps prevent the spread of bacteria, including viruses.

15. Should I wear a face mask? 

If you’re healthy, not showing any symptoms, there’s no need to wear a mask. Since masks usually don't seal off your face entirely, germ droplets can still get into your mouth and nose. There is very little evidence that wearing such masks can be effective in protecting from infections; instead, it can give you a false sense of security and lead to ignoring other crucial precautionary measures, such as basic hand hygiene.

You should wear a mask, however, if you are taking care of a coronavirus-infected person (e.g. when you are in the same room) or if you have symptoms that may indicate infection, such as coughing, fever and breathing problems (in this case, a mask may protect you from infecting others, and you should also consider seeking medical help).

The WHO emphasizes that masks can only help prevent the spread of the epidemic if they are used and disposed of properly, and used in combination with other preventive measures such as frequently washing and disinfecting your hands. 

16. Are asymptomatic people also contagious? 

Yes. Cases have been reported where a person not showing any of the usual symptoms has infected their relatives.

17. Will coronavirus become a flu-like seasonal illness?

Just like the flu, the new coronavirus spreads mainly through small respiratory droplets –infected people transmit it by sneezing and coughing out droplets.

In Poland, the flu season begins in October, but the peak of infections is usually in January and February - in March, the disease weakens, but it can still spread even until May. In the southern hemisphere, it is the other way around - influenza attacks mainly between June and September, i.e. in autumn and winter season.

Put concisely: in both cases, flu tends to be most severe in winter. 

But why? After all, it is not the case with all germs; meningococcal diseases, for example, prefer the warm holiday months.

There are three likely hypotheses:

  • In winter, people spend more time inside, often in inadequately aired rooms, so there is a greater risk that they will breathe the same air as someone who has the flu and spreads the germs, and thus also become infected with the virus.
  • The lack of sunlight in winter, which is essential for the synthesis of vitamin D in the body, leads to low levels of vitamin D. This weakens our immune system, reducing our ability to fight pathogens.
  • The flu virus is much more resistant, i.e. it can survive longer in a cool and dry environment, so it can infect more people in winter.

All three hypotheses are plausible. The last one seems to be confirmed by research on guinea pigs (also called cavies) done several years ago by Dr. Peter Palese from New York. He infected these rodents with the flu and investigated how infectious the germ is under various conditions - at temperatures ranging from 5 to 30 degrees C and humidity between 20 and 80 percent.

Results left no doubt: the virus spread much better from cage to cage and infected the rodents more easily in lower temperatures and humidity. There is, of course, a suspicion that under cold and dry conditions something bad is happening to the body's immune system. But Dr. Palese checked on this - he did not identify any differences in the behaviour of the non-specific immune system of guinea pigs.

 An alternative explanation suggested that certain conditions are harmful to the germ itself. And indeed, laboratory tests from the 1960s already showed that the flu virus survives longer in low temperatures and humidity. In dry air and at 5 degrees Celsius the virus remained infectious for over 23 hours. In humid air and at 30 degrees Celsius, it was not even infectious for a full hour.

Additionally, the results were also confirmed by an analysis from 2013, which showed that influenza attacks particularly strongly if the flu season comes after a very dry period.

What could be the mechanism? Here, too, we can only rely on hypotheses, as there are multiple factors which may also come into play:

  • In dry air, droplets thrown into the air during coughing or sneezing evaporate faster, reducing their size and weight. As they are lighter, they can float above the ground longer, spread further, and infect more people.
  • When we breathe dry air (especially in winter, locked up in overheated rooms), mucous membranes are irritated and damaged, and thus more vulnerable to infections.
  • Once it gets colder, the lipid coating of the virus, which protects its genetic material, freezes, stiffens and becomes more resistant.

On the other hand, all of this it is not that simple. The research and remarks mentioned above apply only to areas of the world that experience a winter season.

In tropical climate zones, influenza is correlated with the rainy season, i.e. conditions of very high humidity.

How do all these studies relate to one another?

“Unfortunately, there are not many studies that can explain these contradictory observations," Hannah Foster of Harvard University notes on her blog.

Three years ago, scientists from the University of Chicago made an interesting hypothesis about the spread of influenza in southern and south-eastern Asia.

Scientists suggest that in this region of the world - extremely densely populated - influenza has much better conditions for it to spread than elsewhere, nearly throughout the entire year. Their computer model (developed for seasonal H3N2 influenza) has shown that a higher infectivity rate also translates into greater variability of the virus. 

In short: as a battleground for the constant fight between humans and ever evolving viruses, Asia is where new viral strains are formed, and, if the conditions are favourable, rapidly spread to other parts of the world, causing seasonal epidemics year after year.

The new coronavirus also comes from Asia.

Unfortunately, we know even less about it than the flu that has been with us for years. At the moment, nobody knows whether it will recede in summer and wait like the flu, or will disappear completely?

Or maybe the warm season will make it even more aggressive?

Several days ago, Dr. Michael Ryan, an expert at the World Health Organization, pondered over this question during a WHO press conference. His statement only proves that scientists still don't know what the main driving force is behind the current epidemic, which, just like the flu, attacks our respiratory organs.

Is it its unique ability to survive in winter, or is it a specifically human factor, our tendency to crowd in poorly aired and tight spaces in winter?

- “What concerns me, however, is that this disease spreads in many different climate zones. Singapore, for example, is very hot and humid," said Dr Ryan. – “We just have to wait and see.”

18. With schools closed, how to continue learning?

When the epidemic outbreak in China forced the schools to close, teachers started using the Chinese communication platform DingTalk. Students were supposed to log in and join their classmates for online lessons.

Kids quickly found out that if enough users rated the application poorly on App Store, it would be removed. Tens of thousands of negative reviews were quickly posted, and DingTalk's rating dropped from 4.9 to 1.4 stars overnight. Clever.

Fortunately, we still don't live in a country where all the schools are centrally directed, and we have a broad selection of tools that we can use in times of a pandemic.

Moreover, it can be a great incentive to start introducing the so-called ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) tools, more so, considering that the curriculum even requires us to use them. Many companies that create learning apps make their premium versions available for the time of coronavirus epidemic. It is what Kahoot and Google Hangout did.

How to prepare for remote learning? The easiest way is to start a group with your class using some kind of communication platform, e.g. Messenger. It enables quick information exchange. Besides that, we have unlimited Internet resources at our disposal. Even though much of the content is in English - which will probably satisfy many English teachers – every teacher can definitely find something useful.

Math and physics teachers can use the wonderful Khan Academy in Polish (pl.khanacademy.org). It allows you to create a classroom, assign tasks, monitor students' progress and individualize their approach. The students are given tutorials and tips for each topic, which they can use if something is not entirely clear.

Consultations can be made via Google Hangouts and an online whiteboard on which you can write in real time (you only need a tablet).

Mathematicians can also use the Pi-station project (www.pistacja.tv) - where they will find more than 600 free video lessons in mathematics matching their curriculum, created with the help of practitioners and active mathematics teachers. Moreover, there are also interactive exercises that can help to assess the level of progress.

If we want to teach a virtual lesson, we can use the tools to create webinars - online lectures which give the students a possibility to ask questions in a chat. We can also use Skype to teach a lesson with 25 students at the same time (this application is used by many tutors and language teachers).

Yet, the Nearpod.com app, for example, allows people to be anywhere in the world and still participate in classes, provided they have access to the Internet. They can watch the slides commented on by the teacher on their devices and interactively participate in the classes. They can answer questions, make drawings, and do a variety of other things. Edmodo, Google Classroom, Classflow and Teams are similar platforms.

Another idea would be to create a project for students on a given topic and upload it as a task page. Google Site, Linoit or Padlet will be helpful here (however, there is a limit on the number of free projects you can create).

It works like this: we create a page where we can post videos, articles and interactive tasks related to a given topic. It’s called WebQuest. Type English or biology WebQuest in your search engine, and you'll get many examples of how it might look.

There are many applications for creating interactive sentences, quizzes and tests. Why shouldn't your students take an exam online? Kahoot or Quizizz are the most popular. There are also platforms which enable testing and learning at the same time, e.g. Fiszkoteka.pl. You can create flashcards with English vocabulary, with literary terms, grammar rules, or one that explains the structure of a cell.

And what if we want to provide students with learning material? There are real mines of ready-made lessons at our disposal: Symbaloo.com, Edukator.pl, Tab tablic.net.pl, LearningApps.org.

It’s also important to take a look at YouTube. Research from 2018 done by the Brainly educational platform showed that half of Polish students rely on Youtubers to help them learn. Why shouldn’t teachers look for something there?

History teachers, for example, will find a lot of material on the Historia na Szybko Channel; more relaxed teachers should take a look at Historia bez Cenzury. We also recommend videos made by Paulina Mikuła on the Mówiąc Inaczej channel. Chemistry teachers should check out the channel Pani od Chemii or Pan Belfer. Mathematicians (rather high school teachers) – should go to Matemaks. Those teaching younger children will find a variety of tasks at Matzoo.pl.

You can find a lot of interesting information that will make each lesson more interesting on Youtube's popular science channels: emce, Astrofaza, SciFun, Polimaty or Uwaga! Naukowy Bełkot.

There are hundreds of ideas. Those who feel a little lost should join the Facebook group "Digitalni i kreatywni nauczyciele z pasją". They will find a lot of inspiration and practical advice from fellow teachers, who use technology to make teaching more interesting. Bartek Chyś, a teacher and ICT specialist in education who administers the group, gives free webinars on that topic.

Information from professionals can be found by going to the Facebook page Edumiesiąc. There, teachers Katarzyna Drausal and Dorota Kujawa-Weinke host free events on a different topic every month. In November, they were talking about work without grades, December is a month of competence shaping, January was devoted to the topic of homework, in February there was a conversation about challenging behaviour among students, and in March there will be webinars about ICT.

19. Can children become infected too?

No age group is safe. People of all ages can be infected. So far, most reported cases have affected adults, but it does not mean that children are immune to the coronavirus. However, preliminary results indicate that their symptoms are usually much less severe.

20. Should I talk to my students about the coronavirus, and if so, how? 

Yes, you definitely should. Young people, including children, hear about the spread of COVID-19 from all sides. As they are exposed to reliable information mixed with fake news and rumours, they are usually confused. Some children cannot always count on their parents and grandparents either. Oftentimes, they do not have time to look for verified sources of information, might not always exactly understand what they hear, and are afraid of the disease- even more so than people who do not have children.

Hearing about the extent and consequences of epidemics in other countries like China, Korea or Italy, induces fear that can hinder rational thought, cause panic or activate such defensive mechanisms as ignorance of the threat or even denial.

In this situation, even if schools are closed and learning takes place remotely, teachers can become an important source of knowledge about the disease and the necessary protective measures. They can also help to identify reliable sources of information for use at home, and prevent the spread of false information or even panic. Moreover, they can use this opportunity for educational purposes, showing what biological, geographic, social and informational phenomena come together and concentrate in the coronavirus like a lens. We recommend materials prepared by the Ministry of Health and other state institutions: www.gov.pl.

In order to have an informed conversation about the coronavirus, it is worth learning as much as possible about it yourself. It is worth knowing that since the virus is not a bacterium, it spreads differently, spreads faster and cannot be treated with antibiotics. It has to be fought by our own immune system, and its treatment is symptomatic.

The incubation period for the Wuhan virus is one to 14 days, so it is necessary that a quarantine last two weeks. The symptoms usually appear about five days after the initial infection, sometimes even later. The most common symptoms are: fever, fatigue and dry cough, often also muscle aches and a running nose, less often diarrhea.

It is worth learning about the differences and parallels between SARS-Cov-2 and the influenza virus. One should pay special attention to the fact that this virus attacks the lungs – hence the characteristic cough and breathing problems. The flu vaccine does not protect us against it, although it may soon be possible to develop a vaccine for this SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus strain, and the COVID-19 disease which it causes. Medical teams all over the world are working on it, but due to the duration of clinical trials, it probably won’t be available sooner than a few or even several months.

The main ways the virus can spread should also be recalled – in general, a droplet infection occurs during close contact with an infected person. It should be mentioned that a significant percentage of infected people show mild or no symptoms. Together, we can also consider why elderly people (especially those above 65 years of age) and chronically ill people are more likely to become ill. It is worth noting that children and young people are relatively less likely to develop serious symptoms caused by COVID-19, and we do not yet know why this is the case – perhaps, it might be explained by the relatively lower mobility of children, who travel and move less frequently than adults; or maybe children have a yet unknown immune mechanism that protects them from this pathogen, or it is a matter of insufficiently representative statistics.

Reliable and constantly updated information about the coronavirus can be found, among others sources, in materials prepared by the specialists from the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Children are more likely than adults to get carried away by emotions and require reassurance and reliable information. Therefore, it is important to be open to conversation, not to underestimate the concerns of children and young people, and to distract them as much as possible. The form and content of the conversation should be appropriate to the child's age and cognitive abilities. It is a good strategy to be receptive to children's needs - you can ask students what they are afraid of, what they know about the coronavirus and what else they want to know. This allows them to have a point of reference in the knowledge and ideas they already have, correct the wrong ones and acquire new, key facts, especially concerning prevention and daily hygiene like hand washing.

Even if you feel as if you don't know everything about the coronavirus, and don't feel completely competent talking about the topic, remember that you still have a greater level of informational competence than children and most young people. Be open and admit that you do not know everything, but you will try to find reliable answers to their questions online or by calling a clinic, a hospital or sanitary and epidemiological institutions. You can also ask students’ parents (e.g. doctors or nurses) and older students to help you with this task. The main principle of such conversations should be the following: provide the facts, do not scare!

You should calm down rather than encourage catastrophic visions of a global or national epidemic. You have to denounce rumours and gossip spread mainly by social media – a while ago, children in one of the schools believed a classmate who saw a Youtube video that said the coronavirus was spread ... by bats. In another school, there was a rumour not about bats, but beetles. In several towns, there were false alarms about infected buses from Italy. A Pendolino train was stopped because an Asian-looking passenger had a suspicious cough. A stupid joke about the Corona beer spreading the virus quickly turned into a rumour, until the company’s representatives had to deny it...

You should be showing daily updates about the real extent of the disease in Poland, reassuring your students that the health system and sanitary and epidemiological services are well prepared to fight the disease.

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronovirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.

The access to information should be equal for all.

Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation
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