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One of Idaho's top public health officials answers your coronavirus-related questions

Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator for the Idaho Division of Public Health answered some top questions, including how long the stay-at-home order could last.

BOISE, Idaho — Every day our inbox is filled with questions from viewers about logistics of doing the right things during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

In an effort to answer some of the questions you have asked, we interviewed Elke Shaw-Tulloch, the administrator of the Idaho Division of Public Health.

Below is a full transcript of the interview. You can also watch it in the video above.

Mark Johnson: What are the top questions the Health and Welfare Department is receiving right now?

Elke Shaw-Tulloch: I think probably the question that rise to the top is around when we can expect to be able to lift the self-isolation order. When do we expect that curve to peak and be on the other side of it. That's a different question that existed, even a couple of weeks ago. So we are seeing sort of a progression of the questions as we get further and further into the pandemic.

Johnson: And what's the answer?

Shaw-Tullock: The answer is, it depends. So one of the things that we've been looking at recently is trying to develop a model for the state of Idaho, and you can go on to a lot of different websites. There's a website the University of Washington has out there that a lot of people are looking at that gives you projections about when we might see the peak in the state of Idaho. But one thing that we want to make sure we do is select a model for use that has Idaho specific inputs into it. So we can control for things like the fact that we had a governor's executive order for self-isolation come out on the 25th that naturally we had sort of a self-isolation order for schools that went into place when most of the schools closed our doors for a while. There are things that we can build into the model that will give us more accurate timeframes on when we might be able to see the peak, because the adherence to the self-isolation orders has a huge impact. So, the generalized models can give you estimates anywhere around the middle of May, towards the end of May.

Johnson: I mentioned the number of questions we're getting, as are you. I want to read a couple that we are seeing rise the top more than others, and the first has to do with grocery shopping, and the one overriding question is, should we wear gloves and masks when we go shopping?

Shaw-Tullock: That's a great question. We do get asked that quite a bit, and I want to start by saying, the first line of defense is to make sure that if you are going grocery shopping, if you can go during a time when there are fewer shoppers there, if it's possible. Then the second line of defense is to, of course, make sure that you are, what most of the stores nowadays have, you know, sanitary wipes and cleaning supplies that you can adequately wipe down the grocery carts, maintain that same social distancing. Stay away from other shoppers. Especially stay away from store personnel because if you happen to be coming in, you certainly don't want to get those folks who are very essential to us, get them sick. If you can at all shop with doing online purchases and having delivery or pickup or ask someone else that's there to grab something for you. So minimizing your exposure to the extent possible is very important. 

When you're done grocery shopping, wash your hands as soon as possible, use hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipe before you get into your vehicle. Wash your produce and the things that you're handling as best you can after you get them home. So those are sort of the basic precautions, for sure. In terms of wearing masks we have been promoting, although this has been looked at even more closely now by CDC, but we have been promoting if you are sick, you want to protect other people from yourself and wear a mask but we have not been promoting that wearing a mask just as a general precaution - if you can maintain that six-foot distance and you're using really good hand hygiene.

Johnson: This [question] came today. And it says "Please, please, please, can you explain what self-isolation/social distancing means on the news. I work a hotline for COVID-19, and it's amazing how many people don't know exactly what that means. Seems pretty obvious, but maybe to many, it's not."

Shaw-Tullock: That's a great question. So, when we talk about social distancing, that means staying away from folks, it doesn't mean shutting yourself in a closet and completely isolating yourself from other people. We know that that causes a lot of anxiety and stress issues with it. But it really the whole point of trying to maintain a distance between yourself and another person, for example, is because the typical person when they cough or sneeze, if you think about that coming out of them, that's a good distance to stay away from any of those droplets coming out - is about six feet. So I kind of like to use that the concept of, like, gosh anybody near me if they cough or sneeze, I want to be able to be far enough away that I'm not going to come in contact with anything that might be coming at them. So that's what we mean by social distancing maintain that distance between you. Self-isolation really means to make sure that you avoid unnecessary situations where you might come into a larger group of people.

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