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COVID Questions: Cold weather precautions; recovery time; future of work-at-home

September 24, 2020

Editor’s note: We will be publishing answers to questions about COVID-19 and the pandemic each week in this COVID questions column. If you have a question, please email it to covid19update@uc.wisc.edu.

Q: Are there any special precautions I can take to protect myself against COVID-19 as the weather gets colder?

We all need to hunker down this winter. Since the coronavirus is more easily transmitted indoors, a “second wave” of COVID-19 is anticipated. When community spread intensifies, there is an even greater chance of catching the infection in public places or when spending time with people outside your household.

Given the many holidays celebrated during winter, plan for ways to lower your temptation to attend or host parties and gatherings. Minimize trips to places where you will come into contact with people outside your household. Avoid activities that might cause you a trip to the emergency department. Get your flu shot and avoid catching all respiratory bugs to keep your lungs healthy. If you have not done so already, upgrade your face covering to something more effective and improve its fit on your face. Wash your hands more thoroughly and often.

These precautions may not feel extra special if you have been doing them all along. But complacency can easily set in after a summer of being outdoors and recent surges are evidence of that. Doubling your efforts will help you avoid COVID-19 during the second wave. If everyone else does so, too, we can lessen its severity in our community.

—Ajay Sethi, Associate Professor, Population Health Sciences; Faculty Director, Master of Public Health Program

Q: Many businesses are still allowing their employees to work from home, and many say they may even continue this trend after a COVID-19 vaccine. How will this impact businesses in the future?

If there is one structural shift to the economy that may come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is around telecommuting and the need for large office spaces. Based on Google-sourced mobile phone GPS data, people are starting to return to physically going to businesses, but many people are still staying away from their workplace. This pattern is partially explained by the ability to telecommute. There is growing anecdotal evidence that many businesses are finding that telecommuting is a viable alternative to large office spaces. If this is the case, do these businesses still need the expense associated with existing office spaces? There are a growing number of tech companies in Silicon Valley finding that telecommuting works and that they can significantly reduce costs by reducing their office footprint in expensive real estate markets.

This has two implications. First, it creates an opportunity for many communities across Wisconsin, particularly those with high natural amenities, to try to attract telecommuters as residents. Attracting telecommuters requires that adequate broadband is available, which, for many Wisconsin communities, remains a challenge. Second, it creates a challenge for communities that have a high density of office buildings. If businesses promote telecommuting and reduce their demand for office space, especially in dense downtowns, some communities are positioned to “win” while others may “lose.”

—Steven Deller, Professor and Community Development Specialist, Agricultural and Applied Economics

Q: Recent news stories are highlighting long-term impacts for those who have “recovered” from COVID-19. How long does recovering from the virus actually take, and what are some of those long-term side effects?

There is a range of experiences, but individuals who have milder cases, defined by not requiring hospitalization, we’re hearing that they have severe fatigue. They’ll complain of either shortness of breath or a pressure in their chest. For the most part, those patients are treated with over-the-counter medications. The real medicine for those people is time. For some people that’s 10-14 days. For others, their symptoms seem to prolong.

We are hearing more reports from overseas of a large percentage of patients who had either moderate or more severe COVID-19 and are taking a long time to recover. Some studies look at patients who are taking more than 60 days to recover, and even at that 60-day point, are still having symptoms. We don’t know the exact reason. We think it could be related to the immune system’s response to tissues being damaged and needing time to heal. We’ve only been dealing with COVID for seven, eight months. In terms of long-term effects, that’s still a very short period of time. We’ll need to see over the next one to two years what those true long-term implications of having COVID-19 are, and are there side effects of symptoms that may persist for a very long time in some patients.

—Jeff Pothof, UW Health Chief Quality Officer. Learn more about COVID-19 recovery from Jeff Pothof in this Badger Talks interview.

Tags: covid-19, health