Listeners Ask About Coronavirus Testing, Hoarding Toilet Paper and President Trump's Response

Mar 16, 2020

The news of how the coronavirus is affecting Northeast Ohio is changing daily. One week ago, only a few dozen tests had been conducted in the state. And schools, bars, restaurants and sporting events were all operating as usual. As of this past weekend, all of that has changed. 

It looks like some store shelves are starting to get restocked with toilet paper, and we actually got a couple questions on why people are hoarding it. Listener Nancy Yahraus says she can understand hand sanitizer, but why toilet paper? And we received a question on why people need to hoard water.

This seems to be less a health or economic question than it is a psychological question, so I spoke with Toni Lynn Bisconti, a psychology professor at the University of Akron.

“I really think it’s just a simple case of pure panic," Bisconti says. "When fear increases the way that we purchase things, the way we get selfish also increases.  I also think that the first time someone does it, they put it on social media. And then it puts the idea in everyone else’s head."

“And I’ll say this, too: our phones are permanently attached to us. Every time a text [or notification] comes through, our Cortisol level goes up. So that ‘fight-or-flight’ response goes up. So what else we’re going to see is, a lot of people are going to get sick right now just from their own adrenaline. Once people start getting sick, they’re going to panic even more. So it’s just this vicious cycle.”

We've also received many questions on how, where and when to get tested.

Over the weekend, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals started drive-thru testing, but you must have a doctor's order. They've only got capacity for about 500 tests a day right now, and they want you to go online and have a virtual visit instead of just showing up at the ER, MinuteClinic or the test site near the main Clinic campus. The other big hospital in Cleveland, MetroHealth, is not part of the drive-thru testing but wants people to call their hotline – (440) 59-COVID – to find out how to proceed. Most other hospital systems are saying the same thing, or they want you to call the State Department of Health hotline (833-4-ASK-ODH).

Listener Beverly Timmons asks, “Exactly what symptoms should I be experiencing before I contact a health provider for a test?”

Last week, WKSU’s Jeff St. Clair spoke with Summa Health’s Dr. Thomas File, who is also the president of the Infectious Disease Society of America. He said the classic symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath, but there are also cases where symptoms don't appear or can mimic a respiratory infection or common cold. So that’s why they’re screening patients who are high risk.

File said there’s simply not enough tests right now, and it will take several weeks for Summa to develop one.  At Cleveland Clinic, the test they’re using gets results in about a day.

We received this question from Amy Freed Humbert: “What has made this an alarming pandemic as compared with something like the common flu or other viruses that cause more deaths annually?”

The Cleveland Clinic’s Chief of Medical Operations, Dr. Robert Wyllie, wants people to think about the coronavirus in terms of influenza. So far this year, the flu has affected about 32 million Americans and has caused at least 18,000 deaths. As of Saturday, there were about 2,200 people affected and about 50 deaths.  The difference is that there’s no vaccine and no immunity for COVID-19.

So what are the guidelines on quarantine once one tests positive for coronavirus, or for isolation if a family member show symptoms?

If someone is admitted to the hospital, they can have their phone and whatnot but they're going to limit access to that person by family members.  And of course the staff has to be in full pandemic regalia: face masks, gloves, everything. Wyllie estimates that about 80% of people with symptoms will likely not need to be hospitalized. The other 20% should probably be seen by a medical provider. Of those, a third (or about 6-7% of the total), will end up hospitalized. And about a third of those (or 2-3% of the total) will need to be in intensive care.

Listener Shane Wynn wants to know if you can you get the coronavirus twice?

Wyllie said that with most infections, one gets at least a temporary immunity. In this case, there’s no telling how long that immunity will last.  Many things related to COVID-19 are simply a case of “we just don’t know.”

That seems to be the answer for a lot of things, such as the questions we’ve been getting from people who have travel plans.

Whether it’s international or domestic, you’re going to be impacted – it just depends on how much. AAA’s Jim Garrity says this is the time to consult a travel agent, who is likely getting the latest information from airlines, cruise lines and various destinations.  He said, anecdotally, one customer who had a trip booked to Ireland was able to have his ticket credited for the rest of the year. But stipulations are different everywhere. A trip to Akron is a lot different than a trip to California. And they’re both different than a trip to Ireland.

And President Donald Trump is actually considering restricting some domestic travel, as reported by CNN and other sources. 

Two questions we received dealt with Trump and whether he cut Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding or eliminated response teams.

We reached out to both of Ohio’s senators on this, since they’re so heavily involved in the budgeting process. Republican Rob Portman sent back a short statement saying that CDC funding increased from $12 billion in fiscal year 2018 to $12.1 billion in fiscal year 2019 to $12.7 billion this fiscal year.

Democrat Sherrod Brown, though, was very vocal about this.  He sent us — and then tweeted out — a letter he wrote almost two years ago to the president asking why he disbanded the National Security Council office in charge of preparing for potential outbreaks, which is called the Global Health Security unit, and saying it was a bad idea.

And then at a press conference on Friday, PBS NewsHour's Yamiche Alcindor asked the president about this directly, and here’s that exchange:

You can ask your questions about the coronavirus, or any topic, for WKSU’s OH Really? – our initiative to make you part of the reporting process.

_