As this largely unprecedented pandemic continues to unfold, we understand that keeping up with the onslaught of information can feel like an exercise in fatigue. As the state of Arizona’s designated land-grant university, we are committed to providing public outreach and education—especially in these uncertain times.

While hundreds of UArizona researchers tirelessly investigate the virus and its impacts, we are inviting the public to ask any COVID-19-related questions for response by our resident experts. Below are questions submitted by the public and responses from UArizona researchers on the frontlines. 

If you have a question of your own, please visit research.arizona.edu/stories/covid19#questions to submit it. We will track down the answer and get it to you as soon as possible.

Q: I was recently sick with symptoms including fever, chills, severe body aches, general malaise, headache, loss of sense of smell and taste, and difficulty 
inhaling deeply. Do you think that if I had COVID-19, my not having the flu shot could have made me more vulnerable than someone who is vaccinated against the flu?

A: It would be difficult, of course, to make a diagnosis just from the symptoms you’ve listed here. That said, the flu vaccine does not help prevent COVID-19. But if you didn’t get flu vaccine and had a flu infection, it would put you in a more vulnerable position if and when you do have a COVID-19 infection.

UArizona expert respondent: Jun Wang, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Pharmacy

Q: Is there a way I can get tested to see if I did have COVID-19 at one point?

A: There are test kits for detecting antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19. If you have antibodies that react to the SARS-CoV-2 S protein, it is likely you had COVID-19.

UArizona expert respondent: Jun Wang, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Pharmacy

Q: Is someone working on an antiviral vaccine?

A: Scientists across the globe are rushing to create a COVID-19 vaccine, and there are several candidates already in clinical trials, but getting the vaccine to the public is still at least a year away, unfortunately.

UArizona expert respondent: Jun Wang, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Pharmacy

Q: I have heard physical activity is the best way to boost immunity and combat a positive diagnosis. Is there science behind this?

A: There is serious science showing that exercise has a profound impact on the normal functioning of the immune system, and good cardiorespiratory fitness has been shown to improve immune responses to vaccination, chronic low-grade inflammation, and other disease states. 

Being as active as possible is very important—especially because we know that social isolation, confinement, and stress negatively impact immunity. 

Each bout of exercise, particularly whole-body dynamic cardiorespiratory exercise, instantaneously mobilizes literally billions of immune cells, especially those cell types that are capable of carrying out effector functions such as the recognition and killing of virus-infected cells. The immune cells that are mobilized with exercise are primed and ‘looking for a fight.’ Their frequent recirculation between the blood and tissues functions to increase host immune surveillance, which, in theory, makes us more resistant to infection and better equipped to deal with any infectious agent that has gained a foothold. Exercise also releases various proteins that can help maintain immunity and that work in concert to increase our resistance to infection. Exercise is especially beneficial for older adults who are more susceptible to infection in general and have also been identified as a particularly vulnerable population during this COVID-19 outbreak.

UArizona expert respondent: Richard Simpson, Associate Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Q: With some animals now contracting COVID-19, should I avoid dog parks, fostering, or sending my dog to daycare?

A: Although there have been reports of a very small number of pets outside the United States testing positive for SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—following contact with a human with COVID-19, the only reported case of an animal becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the United States remains the USDA-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 case in one tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

Some evidence suggests that cats might be susceptible to the COVID-19 virus due to their susceptibility to coronaviruses, but transmission appears to only occur to other cats and not to humans. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pet owners should remain informed but should not be concerned that dogs or cats can be a source of COVID-19 for humans or that SARS-CoV-2 will cause disease in dogs or cats.

In accord with current social distancing recommendations, the CDC recommends that you do not allow people outside of your household to handle your pets at this time if you want to be very cautious—the exception being if your pet needs veterinary care. Generally, if your dog is at home and does not encounter other dogs or people, and no one in your household has COVID-19, the odds that your dog would become infected are highly unlikely. If you have concerns regarding your pet and COVID-19, you should contact your veterinarian for additional guidance.

For more information, please see the CDC webpage regarding COVID-19 and animals or the AVMA page on SARS-CoV-2 in animals, including pets.

UArizona expert respondent: Jamie Boehmer, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, College of Veterinary Medicine

Q: How do I differentiate the symptoms of my chronic depression and anxiety (exasperated by physical isolation) and seasonal allergies from potential COVID-19 symptoms?

A: There can certainly be some overlap between depression, anxiety, allergies and COVID-19 symptoms. Particularly for depression and anxiety, increased fatigue is common and people can also experience body aches and muscle tension. And with allergies, people can experience a cough and sore throat. However, with COVID-19, although the symptoms are very diverse, you may have a fever greater than 100.4 degrees, muscle aches like the flu, and/or loss of taste and smell which would not fit with either depression, anxiety, or allergies. 

This is a very stressful time, with uncertainty and many changes happening in rapid succession. It's not unusual to be experiencing worsening mental health, but I do strongly recommend reaching out to mental health professionals for help if you are experiencing worsening anxiety or depression.

UArizona expert respondent: Kathryn Ann Emerick, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology, College of Medicine – Tucson

Q: With the virus being able to survive on surfaces for days at a time, do I need to worry about disinfecting packages I've ordered online? And if so, what’s the best method?

A:  Virus transfer from paper to hands is less than 1% in our studies compared to 70% for plastic, so risks of picking up a virus from cardboard are significantly reduced. A recent study found that the COVID-19 virus only survives about 24 hours on cardboard. If the package is wrapped in plastic tape, I would wipe it with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands following CDC guidelines after opening.

UArizona expert respondent: Charles Gerba, Professor of Microbiology and Environmental Science, College of Public Health

Q: I am close friends with several nurses in hospitals throughout the state, and I feel so sorry for what they have been put through on account of a virus that’s amounted to nothing more than the average cold and flu season. What was different about this coronavirus versus other infectious disease outbreaks like H1N1 that led to widespread panic? In other words, why have we overreacted to this coronavirus unlike past threats?

A: The SARS-CoV-2 virus (cause of COVID-19) is a virus that, like H1N1, emerged from an animal recently into the human population. H1N1 had the potential to cause severe disease, but it did not spread as efficiently as SARS-CoV-2.  SARS-CoV-2 is dangerous because we have no pre-existing immunity (We always have at least some immunity to flu strains including H1N1) and it spreads with incredible efficiency human-to-human, partly due to its long, asymptomatic period.

While many infected with this virus will have mild disease (cold/flu-like), many others are severely affected. This includes the elderly, immune compromised, or people with underlying conditions (e.g. heart/lung disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc.). That said, 40% of the severe disease that has resulted in hospitalization has been among people 20-54 years old and there have been disconcerting numbers of deaths in that age group. Moreover, in those that survive severe disease, the recovery is long, and lung and heart issues persist, which will affect these patients’ long-term health in ways that are not yet fully understood.

The death rate of COVID-19 has already exceeded the lower estimates of H1N1 and it is not over yet. Specifically, the number of COVID deaths in the United States have more than doubled those caused by H1N1. Further, many deaths through December 2019-March 2020 were likely due to COVID, but not attributed to COVID because of the lack of testing and knowledge.

The healthcare system has been far more heavily burdened than it was with H1N1 and this is resulting in collateral deaths as well—people who cannot get adequate the care for other conditions or who fear seeking help at an emergency room. When we look at what has happened in New York City or Seattle, it is hard to justify that the public health response has been an overreaction. Hospitals in these cities were dramatically overwhelmed, and this affected the entire population. Many died as a direct result—so many, in fact, that refrigerated tractor trailers have been brought in to store bodies. We in Arizona have not been hit as hard as New York City and Seattle. That is partly due to population density and partly due to the shelter-in-place orders. Expected numbers of deaths have fallen dramatically as a result of these actions, many healthcare workers have been spared infection, healthcare systems have not become overwhelmed. Looking at the hardest hit communities, it is irrefutable that social distancing has played a huge role in improving the outcomes here in Arizona.

It is important that we are able to implement systems to get people back to work and life as soon as possible, but to do that safely, we need testing for the virus, immunity to the virus, and social distancing will need to continue for some time. It is our responsibility to those on the frontlines, as well as vulnerable populations, to make a slow and steady return to normalcy as safely as possible. We cannot afford to risk making this period of social isolation and economic hardship all for nothing.

UArizona expert respondent: Felicia Goodrum, Professor of Immunobiology, College of Medicine – Tucson

Q: I am a DNP/RN in town. Is there a research project going on for public testing of COVID-19 antibodies? If so, how can I sign up? 

A: First of all, thank you for the work you are doing on the frontlines. You're playing a critical role in our nation’s ability to prevent and control this disease, and we can’t thank you enough for your courageous, compassionate service. I am directing you to the university’s webpage dedicated to questions about antibody testing: https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/. If you scroll down the page, you will see the FAQs you’re after. Screenshot attached for reference. Please stay safe and thank you for inquiring. Bear down.

Q: My husband, son, and I are all at high risk for infection. How can I access UArizona predictive models so we can make informed, evidence-based decisions about how we handle the next couple of months?

A: We are so sorry to hear that you and your family are at high risk for infection. We hope you’re taking care of yourselves and following CDC guidelines.

A little background information for you regarding predictive COVID-19 modeling in Arizona: The Arizona Department of Health Services put together a COVID-19 task force to advise leaders on how to best respond to the outbreak. The task force includes several UArizona Health Sciences faculty members (in addition to collaborators at Arizona State University):

  • Patrick Wightman, director of the Center for Population Science and Discovery
  • Kacey Ernst, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Heidi Brown, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Kate Ellingson, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Dean Billheimer, director of the UA Health Sciences and BIO5 Institute Statistics Consulting Laboratory
  • Bonnie Lafleur, research professor in the BIO5 Institute
  • James Knepler, professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine and program director of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship
  • Kathy Hiller, professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine
  • Joe Gerald, associate professor in the in the Community, Environment & Policy Department

Governor Doug Ducey asked this task force on Monday, May 4 to “pause” their modeling work, a decision which made national news (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/arizona-halts-partnership-with-experts-predicting-coronavirus-cases-would-continue-to-mount/2020/05/06/d7a97c46-8fc2-11ea-a9c0-73b93422d691_story.html). As of May 7, Ducey reversed this position. 

Now, all that said, here you will find a COVID-19 forecast model for the state and county:https://publichealth.arizona.edu/news/2020/covid-19-forecast-model. This model was reported by Dr. Gerald from the above list. Also, here is a UANews story that talks about UArizona modeling work: https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/physicianresearcher-analyzes-data-inform-covid19-public-policy.

We hope this information is helpful to you and your family. Stay safe and bear down.