Can I walk outside? Is the virus on my shoes? And other coronavirus questions answered

Coronavirus: Experts answer your questions

With new information on the coronavirus coming in constantly, people are struggling to keep up with all the ways it is transforming everyday life. "CBS This Morning" assembled a panel of experts — CBS News medical contributors Dr. David Agus and Dr. Tara Narula and CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger — to answer questions from viewers around the country who want to know how the coronavirus affects their health and their finances.

Q: Can you get tested to see if you may have coronavirus already?

Dr. Agus: That's our dream, is to have a test in the blood to see who had the virus and who had an immune response. Other countries have it. It's out in China, it's out in some of Europe. Hopefully we will have it in the next week or so, and that's critical to know if you can go back because what we think is if you have immune proteins, antibodies in the blood that this test will show you cannot get the virus again, at least for a short term. We don't know long term because the virus has only been around since December. 

Q: If you have already been diagnosed with coronavirus, how do you know when it's safe to re-enter society?

Dr. Agus: It is three days after symptoms are totally gone, and seven days, at least, since the beginning of symptoms. If you meet those two criteria, you can go out.

Q: Is there any proof that the coronavirus can be caught by pets?

Dr. Narula: A lot of people want to know about pets. So, there's no evidence to date to suggest that pets can either be a source of infection or that they can contract COVID-19. That being said, there really is a lack of data and research in this area. The CDC says if you are suspected to have COVID-19 or you've tested positive, you really do want to maintain distance from your pet the same way you would from humans. So you'll want to avoid the kissing, snuggling, petting that you love to do. And if there's someone else in your home that can help take care of your pet, you want to ask them to help out. If it must be you that does it, make sure you wash your hands before and after you interact with your pet. 

Q: Does the $1,200 relief check being sent to individuals include retired seniors?

Schlesinger: Absolutely it does. So, even if the only source of income is social security, you will get this check as long as you fall below that $75,000 threshold. And even if you don't file taxes, don't worry. The government will access your information through the social security system. So seniors, you, too, will be getting checks. 

Q: When will people see their unemployment benefits?

Schlesinger: I'm hearing from a lot of people around the states, usually states have a one-week waiting period. They're encouraged to waive that. Because of these flood of claims — we saw over 3 million in a week — that is stopping up the system. … So two to three weeks is what we're hearing from the crowded states where there are tons of claims.

Q: Are we learning anything from studies that look at the weather and virus effects?

Dr. Agus: Not yet, it's just too new. The virus began in December. I mean, the hope is that other viruses can go away as the temperature goes up. So we don't know with this one. We know our behavior changes. And as temperatures go up, you're outdoors, the U.V. sunlight degrades the virus. The virus is not alive. Will temperature itself get rid of these particles? We don't know. I hope. 

Q: Is it safe to go to a doctor for nonessential visits, like a chiropractor, for example?

Dr. Narula: So you want to look at who you are, what your vulnerable abilities are, but also what is the service or the visit for? Certainly if it's urgent, your doctor, the health professional may want to see you. If it is non-urgent, most doctors' offices are rescheduling and pushing patient visits out at least 45 days or so. This is a great point where telehealth or telemedicine can be useful. Lots of doctors' offices are doing it for non-urgent issues.

Q: Will workers who have been laid off due to the coronavirus receive their full pay through the unemployment department?

Schlesinger: No, they probably will not. So, there are two tiers of unemployment. One is state of residence, that goes 26 weeks and usually covers between 40% to 50% — very state-specific. And then the government program that will tack on 13 weeks to whatever the maximum is in your state, and will also provide you with $600 a week for four months, through July. So you've got to check with your state. Probably end up at maybe 70% or 80% of your pay prior to the virus. 

Q: if I get the $1,200 stimulus check, do you have to pay taxes on that?

Schlesinger: No, you do not, that's great news. That would be sort of a weird double-whammy. There's one little issue, though. Because you're basing your check on your adjusted gross income, line 8b on your tax return, if you have not filed yet for 2019 they're going to look at your 2018 returns. The only adjustment that could be made some, if your income really changes, maybe goes higher in 2019. I don't think that's going to be a problem for most of the people involved here.

Q: Since this is an illness that attacks the lungs, if you had the pneumonia vaccine, does that provide protection against the severe symptoms?

Dr. Agus: The answer is no. The pneumonia vaccine is against a particular bacteria that can cause pneumonia. This virus is totally separate. While they both cause pneumonia, the vaccine will not affect your response to the virus at all. You're still as likely to get pneumonia, unfortunately.

Q: Is it OK to make masks for medical professionals who lack them?

Dr. Narula: Well, so the surgical masks and the N95s are the ones that are really certified and regulated. That's because they're tested for how they fit, the materials used, how permeable they are, what kind of barrier they are. That said, in a crisis situation, which we are in —and we're hearing so much from the frontline workers about how they lack personal protective equipment — any kind of a barrier, even if it's a cloth mask may help prevent those large droplets from entering the nose or the mouth of the health care worker. So there are some hospitals in this country that are accepting donations. Others are not. You need to check in the local area where you live. But certainly it is inspiring to see how many people have stepped up to try to help.

Q: With constant hand-washing and dry skin in the winter, you can get painful cracks in your skin. If you have cracks in your hands, are you more susceptible to touching something and having the virus get inside you?

Dr. Narula: Well, it's not really that the virus would get in through the skin. So that's not really a portal of entry. But we know that your hands, if they touch droplets and then you touch your face, you can certainly spread it that way to the nose or the mouth or the eyes. So you definitely want to be careful about where you're putting your hands and where you're touching, which is why we say [keep your] hands below the neck if possible. I know it's difficult, but really try.

Q: Is it safe to go for a walk in the park outside, or are you in danger of catching coronavirus in the air?

Dr. Agus: Yeah, it's OK to go outside. U.V. sunlight does degrade the virus. You need to maintain social distance. There's talk of closing streets [in New York City to] make it easier so they can walk in the street and have the social distance. We're going to go stir-crazy if we're in a room staring at four walls.

Q: Is it true that you can pick up the virus on your shoes when you're walking outside? 

Dr. Agus: I can't imagine that. That being said, you can always leave your shoes at the door if you're worried.