Frequently Asked Questions

Last Updated 29/07/2020

Frequently asked questions relating to Education and returning to school can be found here.

1. How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can spread from person to person through respiratory droplets - small droplets from the nose or mouth of a person infected with the virus. These droplets are produced when a person coughs, sneezes or exhales. People can catch the virus either:

•    directly, by breathing in the droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes or
•    indirectly, by touching surfaces (e.g. table, door handle) that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Simple household disinfectants can kill the virus. Surfaces should be cleaned first and then disinfected.

Current information suggests that infected people can transmit the virus both when they are symptomatic and asymptomatic. This is why it is essential that anyone who is infected with the virus, has been in contact with a confirmed case, or has any symptoms should be tested. Even people confirmed to have COVID-19 but who do not have symptoms should be isolated to limit their contact with others. By taking these steps, it is helping to break the chain of transmission of the virus.

It is always important to stay at least 2 metres from others, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze with a bent elbow or tissue, clean hands regularly, and stay home if you become unwell. In areas where it is difficult to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others, it is important to wear a face covering to protect both yourself and others. It is important to follow Government advice regarding when and where face masks should be worn.
More information on the use of face masks/coverings can be found here


2.  Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be spread through the air?
Current information suggests that the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air. They quickly fall on floors or surfaces. You can be infected by breathing in the virus from a person who has COVID-19, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.

Certain medical procedures can produce tiny droplets that are able to stay suspended in the air for longer periods of time. When such medical procedures are conducted on people that are infected with COVID-19, these aerosols can contain the COVID-19 virus. These aerosols may be inhaled by others if they are not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. Therefore, it is essential that all health workers performing these procedures take specific airborne protection measures, including wearing personal protective equipment. Visitors should not be permitted in areas where such medical procedures are being performed.

There have been reported outbreaks of COVID-19 in some closed settings, such as nightclubs, places of worship, restaurants, and places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing. In these outbreaks, aerosol transmission (specifically in indoor locations that are densely populated and inadequately ventilated) cannot be ruled out.  More studies are urgently needed to investigate such instances and evaluate their significance for transmission of COVID-19.


3.  What is the incubation period for COVID-19?
The incubation period is the time between infection (exposure to the virus) and the onset of symptoms of disease (e.g. cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss of taste, loss of smell). Current information suggests that the incubation period for COVID-19 is on average 5-6 days, however, can be up to 14 days. It is now known that during the incubation period, some of those infected can be contagious. Pre-symptomatic transmission has been identified in a small number of studies 7-12. This is supported by data that suggest some people can test positive 1-3 days before onset of symptoms 1-11.


4. Can I get an antibody test?
An increasing number of antibody-detecting, rapid diagnostic tests are becoming available over the counter. At present, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend the use of commercial, antibody ‘home test’ kits. The tests are not as sensitive or reliable as those currently being carried out by clinicians to monitor the virus patterns and its effects in a population. People who are otherwise well do not need to have an antibody test, as the result will not generally be of benefit to the person. If your doctor has concerns about your health and feels that the test is clinically indicated, then they may ask for this test to be carried out on you.

Antibody testing (also known as serology testing) determines whether or not you may have had COVID-19 in the past and have now developed antibodies in response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is a different test than diagnosing if you currently have COVID-19. If antibodies are detected, it is an indication that the person had an infection with the virus at some time. However, we don’t know at the moment whether this will give you protection against getting the infection again. So, your result cannot be taken to mean that you are immune to COVID-19.
 
If antibodies are not detected, the most likely explanation is that you have never been infected. If you had a mild or symptomless infection, the antibody response may be low or may even be below the level that is detectable.
 
5. Can I buy a home antibody test kit?
We would discourage people from buying any home test kits without discussing this with their doctor. As outlined above, these home test kits are not as reliable as those currently being carried out by clinicians to monitor the virus patterns and its effects in a population. Understanding the meaning of the result may not be straightforward and such tests should only be conducted in clinical settings, overseen by medical professionals. This is so that the doctor has the opportunity to inform the patient about the meaning and possible flaws of the result. It is important to note that the presence of antibodies does not indicate immunity to further infection with the COVID-19 virus.

6.  Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet?
While there has been some instances of animals being infected by COVID-19, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19 to humans. COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

If you are sick with COVID-19, you should restrict your interaction with your pet and other animals, as there has been some cases of human to animal transmission identified. Research on SARS-Cov-2 in animals is limited, however, recent research showed that animals such as ferrets and cats can spread COVID-19 to other animals of the same species in laboratory settings. We are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from humans to animals in some situations, especially after close contact with a person sick with COVID-19. Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household.

As a general precaution, it is always wise to observe basic principles of hygiene when in contact with animals. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly. People with pets and people who work with animals should engage in usual preventive actions to avoid infection like hand washing and respiratory hygiene.

For more information on COVID-19 and animals, visit the Department of Agriculture website here.

7. Are people working in areas such as logistics, control services, retail, couriering, etc. at risk of getting COVID-19 by handling packages? What measures can be taken to reduce the risk of getting infected in these types of work settings?
People working in areas such as logistics, control services, retail, couriering, etc. are not at greater risk of getting COVID-19 as a result of managing packages. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) does not recommend any special measures above those addressed to the general public: frequent and thorough hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand disinfectants, keeping a distance from other employees and customers, and not working if showing signs of respiratory symptoms.

8. What is the difference between self-isolation and restricted movement?

Restricted movement
Restricted movement means avoiding contact with other people and social situations as much as possible. It is also sometimes called ‘self-quarantine’.

Restricted movement means that you stay home and:
Do not go to work
Do not use public transport
Do not have visitors in your home
Do not go to the shops or pharmacy, unless absolutely necessary
Keep away from older people, anyone with an underlying medical condition and pregnant women

Self-isolation
Self-isolation means staying at home and completely avoiding contact with other people. This includes other people in your household.

When to self isolate: if you have symptoms of coronavirus, while you wait for test appointment and your test results, if you have had a positive test result for COVID-19, if you have any cold or flu-like symptoms.

Self isolation means that you stay at home and keep away from others in your own home.

Guidance to self-isolation https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/selfisolationathome/Self-isolation%20(2).pdf

9. How long can COVID-19 virus live on surfaces?
Coronavirus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard. As the virus has the ability to live on surfaces, it is important to regularly disinfect areas that may become infected. Common household disinfectants will kill the virus on surfaces. Clean the surface first and then use a disinfectant.

10. Will the number of COVID-19 cases increase in winter?
At present, it is unclear whether COVID-19 cases will increase during winter months. As COVID-19 is a new virus, is it difficult to determine how it will act during different seasons.

11. How do you get tested? How do I receive results?
You may need to get assessed for COVID-19 if you develop symptoms or if you have been a close contact of a confirmed case. Further information on how to get tested can be found on the HSE website here.

12. Will a medical certificate stating that a person has a ‘not detected’ test result for COVID-19 be OK to use for travel or returning to work?

It is not advised to use medical certificates for travel or returning to work. A person could come into contact with the virus after receiving the letter and before travel/return to work. There is also a possibility of a false ‘not detected’ test result, therefore this is not advised.

A false ‘not detected’ test result is a result that indicates a person is negative for COVID-19, when in fact they have the disease. False ‘not detected’ results can occur for a number of reasons: human error; collecting a bad sample; or medical equipment not working as it should. While false ‘not detected’ results do not occur regularly, there is always a very small chance they can happen. The concept of false ‘not detected’ tests can happen with any laboratory test.

13. Is it necessary to get a letter to confirm that the period for self-isolation or restricted movement has finished?

No, it is not necessary to get a letter to confirm that the period for self-isolation or restricted movement is finished. If you have symptoms, it is necessary to self-isolate for 14 days. Once this 14-day isolation period is over and you no longer feel ill, you can come out of isolation.
For further information on the definitions of self-isolation and restricted movement, visit HSE.ie

14. Who is most at risk of getting COVID-19?

Those who are most at risk of getting COVID-19 are:
1.    Those who have recently returned from outside of Ireland
2.    People who have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19
3.    Those who are over 70
4.    Those who are considered to be extremely medically vulnerable

For more information on high risk groups, visit the HSE website.

15. Are young people affected by COVID-19?

While COVID-19 can be more dangerous in older people and those with underlying conditions, all ages can contract the virus. Young people who have underlying conditions are considered to be at higher risk than those who are healthy. HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) recently conducted an evidence summary on the transmission of COVID-19 from children. It was found that more information is needed to identify whether children contribute to the transmission of COVID-19 13.


16. Are pregnant women affected by COVID-19?
Research indicates 14 that women who are pregnant are not at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, once they are healthy. Those with underlying conditions may be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. In order to protect you and your baby, necessary precautions should be taken such as regular hand hygiene, maintaining social distance of 2metres at all times or wearing a face mask when this is not possible. Further information on COVID-19 during pregnancy, hospital appointments, and delivery of a baby can be found on HSE.ie.


17. Does wearing a face covering protect me from getting COVID-19?
Wearing a face covering reduces the risk of coming in contact with COVID-19 droplets as it covers the exposed entry points - the nose and the mouth. While face coverings reduce the risk of coming into contact with the virus, it is important to continue to regularly practice hand hygiene and social distance where possible. It is a legal requirement to wear a face covering when you use public transport. The wearing of face coverings is recommended where social distancing cannot be maintained, in areas such as public transport and in shops.
For more information on how to wear a face covering, visit HSE.ie.

18. I am an Irish citizen living abroad and wish to travel home. What do I need to know? Do I have to self-isolate or restrict movements when I land to Ireland?
Regarding travel, the Government is advising against all non-essential travel overseas until further notice. Please find further information on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.
The HSE are not carrying out testing for COVID-19 in order to obtain declarations of being disease-free to enable permission for entry to other countries, or to remove the requirement to restrict movements on re-entry into Ireland. This is a private health matter.
All travellers entering Ireland are required to restrict movements for 14 days on arrival in Ireland, obtaining a COVID-19 test on arrival does not alter this requirement.
Please see the HSE website which has information for people arriving into Ireland from another country
The HSE website has information about the HSE self isolation facility


References:
1.    World Health Organization. Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) 16-24 February 2020 [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020 Available from: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/who-china-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf
2.    Ong SW, Tan YK, Chia PY, Lee TH, Ng OT, Wong MS, et al. Air, surface environmental, and personal protective equipment contamination by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from a symptomatic patient. JAMA.2020 Mar 4 [Epub ahead of print].
3.    Wang W, Xu Y, Ruqin G, et al. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Different Types of Clinical Specimens. JAMA2020 doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3786.
4.    Lauer SA, Grantz KH, Bi Q et al. The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Ann Intern Med2020 doi: 10.7326/M20-0504.
5.    Liu Y, Yan LM, Wan L et al. Viral dynamics in mild and severe cases of COVID-19. Lancet Infect Dis doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30232-2
6.    Wolfel R, Corman V, Guggemos W et al Virological assessment of hospitalized cases of coronavirus disease 2019. doi: 10.1101/2020.03.05.20030502.
7.    Yu P, Zhu J, Zhang Z, Han Y. A familial cluster of infection associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus indicating possible person-to-person transmission during the incubation period. J Infect 2020 doi: 10.1093/jiaa077
8.    Huang R, Xia J, Chen Y, Shan C, Wu C. A family cluster of SARS-CoV-2 infection involving 11 patients in Nanjing, China Lancet Infect Dis 2020 doi: 10.1016/ S1473-3099(20)30147-X
9.    Pan X, Chen D, Xia Y et al. Asymptomatic cases in a family cluster with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Lancet Infect Dis 2020 doi: 10.1016/ S1473-3099(20)30114-6
10.    Tong Z-D, Tang A, Li K-F, Li P, Wang H-L, Yi J-P, et al. Potential presymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2, Zhejiang Province, China, 2020. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020 doi: 10.3201/eid2605.200198
11.    Wei WE, Li Z, Chiew CJ, Yong SE, et al. Presymptomatic Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 —Singapore, January 23–March 16, 2020. MMWR, 1 April 2020/69. 1
12.    Kimball A, Hatfield KM, Arons M, James A, et al. Asymptomatic and Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Residents of a Long-Term Care Skilled Nursing Facility —King County, Washington, March 2020. MMWR, 3 April 2020, 69(13);377–381.

13.    Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). Evidence summary for spread of COVID-19 by children, 1 April 2020.

14.   Qiao, J., 2020. What are the risks of COVID-19 infection in pregnant women?. The Lancet, 395(10226), pp.760-762.

Last Updated 29/07/2020