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How long does the virus stay in your beard? Your COVID-19 questions answered

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.

From beards to serology tests, here's what you're asking us today

Can the virus survive in your beard? Experts say yes, but no one knows for how long. (Newsworld/CBC Archives)

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 thousands of emails from all corners of the country, including a number of questions about serology tests to how long the virus lasts in your beard, like this question from Parmod L. 

How long does COVID-19 stay active on a beard? 

Here's a question from Parmod L. that stumped us. We know the virus persists on different surfaces like cardboard and plastic for varying amounts of time. But what about beards and facial hair?

"We get asked about it all the time," says Dr. Scott Weese, a veterinary professor at the University of Guelph who researches emerging infectious diseases and infection control.

No one knows for sure.

What epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists do know is that the novel coronavirus can't tolerate most environments, including beards.

Weese says the virus would likely last on beards for hours — not days.

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners, echoes those sentiments.

"Once the virus is in the environment and out of its natural habitat in the respiratory tract, it doesn't do so well," Chakrabarti said, estimating it can remain active on a beard for several minutes. 

"Theoretically, after a fresh cough or sneeze by someone with a beard, and then someone else happens to immediately kiss that person, there is the risk of transmission."

That's part of the reason why public health officials, and Health Canada continue to advise Canadians to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, stay home as much as possible, and practice physical distancing.

I heard there's a COVID-19 blood test that's very quick. Can Canada use this method instead of the swab?

Lots of questions are coming into our inbox about COVID-19 blood tests, including this one from Arshad Q. The COVID-19 blood test, also known as a serology test, delivers results in about 15 minutes, revealing whether someone has ever had the infection and, subsequently, if they've recovered.

"That's very valuable information because the current understanding is that if you've been infected and recovered, you're likely immune to this infection for a period of time and likely throughout the course of this pandemic," says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network.  

While the test is being used in other parts of the world, it hasn't been approved in Canada just yet. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the test is still under review, and the World Health Organization has not issued any recommendations about using it. 

Bogoch explains the test could be important, especially when it comes time to lift public health restrictions and decide when Canadians will be allowed to go back to work.

He said the test could help put people who have recovered from the illness at the front of the line to resume work because they would theoretically be immune, which could help avoid another outbreak.

Is there government assistance for retirees? Should I be cashing out on a portion of my investments?

With the virus taking a serious toll on the economy, many retirees are facing the decimation of their hard-earned investment portfolios. Helen R. wants to know what retirees should do about their investments and what government assistance is in place for them. 

David Sung, financial expert and president of Nicola Wealth, said when markets slide, there's little you can do to prevent investment losses, but he urged retiree and seniors not to panic.

"Over the past 90 years there have been many stock market crashes and many bear markets and after each one of these the market has gone on to new highs," said Sung.

The government has also said it will relax Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) rules. Retirees can take out less money than previously mandated minimums. This should mean they won't have to cash in as many investments at today's much lower values, and give those assets time to recover.

However, this measure won't be useful to retirees who can't afford to withdraw less money. One way to minimize the damage could be to take RRIF payments monthly, instead of in one annual payment. At the very least, this could soften the market's blow over the course of a year, says Shannon Lee Simmons, certified financial planner and founder of The New School of Finance.

A good takeaway from this turmoil? Going forward, "retirees should also ensure their portfolios generate the cash flow that they require so that they don't put themselves in a position to cash out investments." 

And if you do depend on drawing down capital, says Sung, "you're going to want to know that your portfolio has capital in a safe place such as bonds and fixed income."

As usual, after a crash is the worst time to react, say experts. 

"I think staying the course … is the smartest and calmest thing to do right now."

Finance experts answer viewer questions about coping during the COVID-19 pandemic including whether small businesses should take on debt with uncertain times ahead. 7:37

How long does the virus stay in your body and how does it leave? 

Children have a lot of questions about COVID-19, including this one asked by Parker on The National during their COVID-19: Ask the Doctors segment.

Typically, the virus persists in your body for 14 days, but emerging research suggests it could be longer. 

So what happens when the virus is inside? Well, once it enters your body, which generally happens through the eyes, nose, or mouth, it starts making copies of itself. These replications actually trigger the COVID-19 symptoms, says Dr. Dina Kulik, pediatrician at the clinic Kidcrew Medical.

While the virus is replicating, your immune system is also working to fight it off. 

"Your body will start to recognize it [COVID-19] is foreign and start to attack it," says Kulik. "That's when you start to get better and less contagious."

We're also answering your questions every night on The National. Last night, finance experts answered your questions about what supports are available to those still working but with reduced incomes:

Finance experts answer viewer questions about coping during the COVID-19 pandemic including what supports are available for people still working, but with a reduced income. 3:13

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at COVID@cbc.ca. On Wednesday, we answered questions about parenting in self-isolation to homemade masksRead those answers here.

With files from Michelle Song

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