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Answering your questions about coronavirus as it relates to summer heat, groceries, gloves and soap

Here's the latest information and research answering several common questions about the coronavirus.

SAN DIEGO — News 8 is answering a few common questions about the coronavirus in this series of stories.

Marcella Lee shares new research about the effects the summer months are expected to have on the coronavirus, an update on how to handle your groceries and fresh produce when coming home from the store, how soap works to break apart the coronavirus, and the proper way to use gloves to protect yourself from COVID-19. 

SUMMER HEAT

As of this writing in mid-April, the start of summer is just about two months away. One common question people are asking: Will the summer heat kill or slow the spread of the coronavirus?

There has been much debate among medical experts and researchers on whether or not the coronavirus will taper off in the summer, similar to the seasonal flu. 

A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which has been sent to the White House, said people shouldn't count on summer to stop or slow the coronavirus. 

Researchers analyzed laboratory studies and data on the rate of spread from China and other countries. Their findings: "Some limited data support a potential waning of cases in warmer and more humid seasons, yet none are without major limitations."

The report warned "given that countries currently in 'summer' climates, such as Australia and Iran, are experiencing rapid virus spread", it should not be assumed warmer weather will lead to a decrease in cases.

Only time will tell if the summer months will slow or stop the spread here in the United States, so the answer to this question is still unknown. 

GROCERIES

Another common question we've received is whether or not people should wipe down their groceries or fresh produce. 

While there's been no evidence so far, that the coronavirus is transmitted through food, a new study posted in The Lancet Microbe reveals the virus can survive on surfaces for longer than previously thought. 

"Strikingly, a detectable level of infectious virus could still be present on the outer layer of a surgical mask on day seven", the authors wrote in an article titled Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. The research also indicated the coronavirus can survive on glass for three days, and plastic and stainless steel for six days. 

Past studies on viruses related to the novel coronavirus suggest it can survive in your refrigerator for weeks and the freezer for years.   

Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, whose initial YouTube video on disinfecting groceries went viral with more than 25 million views, has released new videos with updated information on his website. Responding to criticism that he recommended using soap on fresh produce, he wrote "UPDATE: Prevailing opinions that fruits & vegetables should be rinsed in clean running water - no soap." Soap can cause nausea or stomach issues if ingested. Health experts suggest rubbing or scrubbing the outside surfaces of raw fruits, vegetables and leafy greens with your hands or a brush. 

RELATED: Safe handling practices for your fresh fruits and vegetables

When it comes to groceries in packages, cans or bottles, Dr. VanWingen recommends dividing your counter space into a dirty side and clean a side. The family practice doctor from Michigan suggests placing all of your groceries on the dirty side, disinfecting each item with a disinfectant wife or by using household cleaner on a paper towel, then placing them on the clean side.  

When you're done, disinfect the dirty side of the counter and wipe down the faucet and anything else you might have touched. 

Finally, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. 

SOAP

Why is 20 seconds the recommended "magic number" when it comes to washing your hands? Here's some background about the nature of soap. 

Soap is made up of molecules with two different ends; one side loves water and the other loves fat.

When soap and water are used on oil, for example, the soap molecules go to work; the water-loving side goes toward water and the fat-loving side breaks down the oil. This is why soap and water clean dirty dishes so well. 

So, how does soap work on the coronavirus? Corona means crown in Spanish and the virus is named after its crown-like spikes. Those spikes allow the virus to attach to your lung cells and cause major damage.

The outer layer of the virus, made up of oily lipid molecules, has a weakness: the fat-loving side of the soap molecule. 

Scientists say each one pries the membrane apart, exposing the water-soluble inside of the virus to water as people wash their hands.

Eventually, the soap forms bubbles, which scientists call micelles, around the lipids and proteins of the virus, breaking them down. 

Experts recommend hand-washing for a minimum of 20 seconds so the soap and water have enough time to work on the virus. Your hands have many deep lines where the virus could live, and scientists say 20 seconds is the amount of time necessary to allow soap and to clean out those cracks.

If you don't have access to soap and water, the CDC says alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol have been shown to inactivate viruses "that are genetically related to, and with similar physical properties as, the 2019-nCoV." 

Can you use vodka as a substitute? No. Most vodka is 80 proof, which is only 40% alcohol and is not concentrated enough to kill viruses. 

GLOVES

A lot of people have been wearing gloves when they go out, but how effective are gloves in protecting people from the coronavirus? 

When you wear gloves to the grocery store, to pump gas or grab your mail, you might be lulled into a false sense of security, but there's one big problem: cross-contamination. 

Doctors say viruses can live on gloves, so if you touch a grocery cart that's contaminated, then touch your cell phone, which you then hold up to your face, you've exposed yourself to the coronavirus.

Doctors say gloves will not help if you're not going to change your habits.

Also, there's a specific way to peel off your gloves so they end up inside out, which prevents germs from getting on your hands. Here's a link the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put on its website which further explains how to safely remove gloves. 

Dispose of your gloves in the trash and immediately wash your hands for 20 seconds. The CDC warns some gloves may have small tears and it's possible you may have exposed yourself to the virus while removing your gloves. If a sink is not available, you may use a disinfectant wipe or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, as mentioned above. 

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