A Lung Expert Myth-Busts Common Beliefs About COVID-19

As we all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help stabilize infection rates, it helps to turn to an expert for a rare and unique understanding about the illness. Dr. Sandeep Bansal is the medical director of The Lung Center at Penn Highlands Healthcare, with offices throughout the region, as well as the medical director of Intensive Care Services at Penn Highlands DuBois. “One thing that’s very clear about this virus,” Dr. Bansal said, “is that we haven’t seen anything like it before. We’re learning more every day.” As he and his colleagues at Penn Highlands continue to see patients for virtual visits via the Penn Highlands MyHealthNow app, he revealed some key insights to help us all stay knowledgeable and safe.

Where did COVID-19 start?

Bansal verifies what many of us have heard. “It started in Wuhan, in the Hubei Province of China,” he said, adding: “There is an understanding it came from animals—probably bats or pangolins.”

Is the six-feet social distancing rule effective?

Bansal addressed social distancing first by listing the most common points of entry for the virus to enter the body: the nose, eyes and, yes, the mouth. Because the virus lives in saliva and mucus of the nose and lungs, Bansal explained, “When a person coughs or sneezes, the small particles of virus get into the air as far as six feet.” This is why the recommendation is to maintain at least six feet of distance between oneself and others. “The thinking is that gravity causes those large droplets to fall to the ground within a distance of six feet from the infected person,” Bansal said, though he also cautioned: “Remember that this six-foot guideline is more of an estimate than a rule.”

How long does COVID-19 really live in the air, as well as on surfaces?

Bansal said that according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the virus stays in the air for three hours. “If you are not wearing a mask and you come into an area where an infected person was, you can be infected as well.”

On surfaces, COVID-19 can be detected up to 24 hours on cardboard, Bansal stated, and three days on plastic and stainless steel. It’s interesting to note, however, that the amount of the virus left on those surfaces decreases over time.

Does COVID-19 do any permanent damage?

The aftermath of COVID-19 on patients is not known. For those cases serious enough to be hospitalized, Bansal said, “We don’t know if the damage it causes is permanent.” Studies on ARDS, a similar disease with respiratory failure and inflammation in the lungs, indicate that long-term physical and mental impairment may occur 30-40 percent of the time. Most patients who are able to stay home for self-care will recover completely without any residual damage.

When will we really have the vaccine?

“To have an effective vaccine, it takes 12-18 months,” Bansal said. “We could have one sooner, but its effectiveness will still need to be determined.”

In the meantime, how can we continue to stay safe?

“The best things to do are keep a distance, stay at home, stop touching your face, put on a mask—there’s no social stigma with that—and take care of yourself. If you have a doctor’s appointment, use telehealth. If you have a need for essential care, come to the healthcare facilities.”

The Lung Center and Critical Care team at Penn Highlands Healthcare can answer the community’s questions about COVID-19 at 814-375-3774 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.