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WATCH: Your questions about COVID-19, answered by a doctor

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 970,000 people and killed more than 50,000 worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and other estimates put the total even higher. The increase in reported cases this week comes as countries around the world, including the United States, are grappling with how to contain the virus that causes COVID-19, and slow the spread of the pandemic.

On Friday, Dr. Ranit Mishori, a professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and senior medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, joined PBS NewsHour’s William Brangham to answer viewers’ questions about COVID-19 and what we know so far.

Should we be wearing masks?

Americans should be covering their faces when they leave the house, but a full mask may not be necessary.

It was announced on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was changing its guidance to recommend everyone cover their faces when outside. The recommendation, however, is voluntary.

But don’t rush to buy N95 respirator masks. In fact, that could be detrimental to curbing the outbreak, since health care workers across the U.S. have reported shortages of such professional protective equipment.

Wearing a cloth covering like a scarf, bandana or homemade mask, when combined with continued social distancing (avoiding public spaces and maintaining 6 feet between others when outside), ensures sufficient protection and prevents a buying rush on medical-grade masks that are already in dangerously short supply.

“I think it’s important to follow the guidelines as the CDC suggests them,” said Mishori.

That said, Mishori doesn’t want mouth coverings to create a “false sense of security.”

Face coverings, even most masks, only provide some protection, and social distancing should be maintained.

Do I need to disinfect things from outside my home?

Yes, as much as possible.

Mishori recommends that if you err on the side of caution, you could disinfect as many objects you bring into your home as possible. 

To be cautious, you should throw clothes worn outside into the wash once you enter your home. After purchasing groceries, it would also be prudent to wash them before putting them away. 

“I think this virus is very insidious and the virus has shown itself to be very powerful in terms of how it’s spreading,” she said.

She recommends these steps especially for homes where a family member may be particularly vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

However, Mishori believes takeout food is fine, and you can reheat it if you’re concerned about contamination.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” she said.

Is there a cure or vaccine available?

Medical experts are working as fast as possible, but there’s a lot of work still to be done.

The virus has proven difficult to understand, largely due to its novelty.

One promising area of study is in the very antibodies created by patients who have recovered from COVID-19. Antibodies are our body’s defense against specific infections, developing in direct response to exposure. 

Research on this is still in the initial phases, but studying the way our own bodies combat the virus can deliver critical insight into developing a vaccine.

Mishori also addressed certain treatments that some claim are beneficial to fighting the virus. Pneumonia vaccines, for instance, do not treat coronavirus, but may be helpful to prevent additional infections that may develop while your immune system is weakened from the virus. 

There is no known cure, and any claim of preventive remedies should always be verified by reputable sources.

“Everything should be taken with a grain of salt,” she said.

Mishori concluded by repeating the recommendations of the majority of global medical experts.

“Stay home, wherever you are,” she said. “It just makes good public health sense and you’re going to be better for helping your fellow citizens.”