Health

Why can I go grocery shopping but not see my friends? Your COVID-19 questions answered

We're answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish a selection of answers every weekday online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network.

From the safety of family visits to the dangers of flatulence, here's what you're asking today

As provinces across the country continue to reopen, many Canadians are wondering why some activities, like grocery shopping, are allowed — while others, like visiting with family and friends, remain off limits. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

We're breaking down what you need to know about the pandemic by answering your questions. You can send us your questions via email at COVID@cbc.ca, and we'll answer as many as we can. We'll publish a selection of answers every weekday on our website, and we're also putting some of your questions to the experts on the air during The National and CBC News Network. So far we've received more than 42,000 emails from all corners of the country. 

Why can I go grocery shopping, but I'm not allowed to gather with family and friends?

As provinces across the country continue to reopen, we're hearing from many Canadians who are wondering why some activities are allowed while others remain off-limits.

Lara B. wrote to ask why it is "acceptable to gather with hundreds of strangers inside a grocery store" but that meeting with family and friends is still prohibited.

It's important to note that in some provinces, such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, you can choose one family to be in physical contact with, but only if you agree to be exclusive.

In Lara's home province of Ontario, however, households are still being asked to stick to themselves. So why is family contact a no-go but grocery stores are OK? The answer comes down to varying risks of contact.

"The kind of contact you have with people who are your family and friends tends to be much closer and [more] prolonged than walking by someone in a [grocery] store," said Dr. Lisa Barrett, a professor at Dalhousie's medical school and an infectious disease researcher. 

"That casual contact is much less risky than the kind of contact we have with family and friends."

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch agrees. "A lot of the data that's emerged show the greatest risk of getting this infection is in indoor environments where people are close together," he said.

Most grocery stores have implemented measures to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, such as limiting the number of people they let into the store at a time, installing Plexiglas in front of cashiers and placing arrows on the floor to direct traffic and enforce distancing. 

If you're seeing a smaller grocery store with "100 or more people" you should let somebody know, Barrett says, because that is "too many people."

Can flatulence carry COVID-19?

By now you've probably heard about the importance of keeping our coughs and sneezes to ourselves, but what about our other gases?

Jill G.'s grandson wants to know if flatulence can carry the virus. "After laughing, we agreed that it was a valid question," she wrote.

The question also made some of our experts smile, but they all agreed that it would be unlikely for farts to spread COVID-19.

Infectious diseases physicians Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti and Dr. Zain Chagla both said "very small" amounts of the virus can be found in the stool of a few people. 

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Alberta, said new research suggests some of that virus could be potentially viable or cultivatable.

But the real question, she said, is whether there is enough virus in stool — and thereby in flatulence — for you to inhale.

"The volume of emissions [when someone passes wind] is much lower than … the air from your chest," said Saxinger. Your clothes may also provide an extra layer of protection.

"There is a bit of literature on this with bacteria, suggesting that underpants will filter bacteria out of flatulence."

Ultimately, she said, the risk would be "really negligible and not be a big concern."

Can I get coronavirus through an open cut?

Janice R. wrote in asking if you can get the virus from a cut.

"No, it's not possible to contract it this way," said Chakrabarti, who is an infectious diseases physician at Trillium Health Partners.

"The virus has the ability to enter the body only through respiratory mucous membranes, which are not present with a cut."

Simply put, the types of cells the virus can bind to are "quite specific," and skin or blood cells likely won't set up an infection, Saxinger said.

"The initial steps of infection generally involve the virus contacting a respiratory, eye, mouth or nose membrane surface, binding itself to specific cell receptors and entering the cells to set up infection," she said.

While the virus — or traces or fragments of the virus — can "maybe be found in the blood," Saxinger said that it doesn't appear to be a blood-borne infection.

"People need to focus on protection from respiratory droplet spread, like breathing in close quarters."

She said it's important that people are mindful that the virus can travel from their hands to their face, and therefore come in contact with membranes in their eyes, nose and mouth.

We're also answering your questions every night on The National. Last night, we asked our medical specialists: How do I balance the risk of reopening with the harm of an extended lockdown? Watch below:

An infectious disease specialist and a psychiatrist answer questions about how to balance the risks of reducing COVID-19 restrictions with the harm of extended lockdowns. 6:39

Saturday we answered your questions about masks

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at COVID@cbc.ca.

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