Your coronavirus questions, answered: How can I disinfect a face mask? Should I wear gloves?

Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this article misstated coronavirus transmission information. There is no evidence that shows the virus can transmit through an open cut, wound or blister.

As confirmed cases of the coronavirus continue to rise across the globe, the virus has affected all aspects of life, from the economy to schools to jobs to how you do your grocery shopping.

USA TODAY readers have asked us hundreds of questions about the outbreak: Do I need to disinfect my groceries after shopping? How will we know when this virus has been cleared? Has anyone with preexisting conditions gotten the coronavirus and survived?

Our entire staff is dedicated to reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, and we’ve tapped our reporters’ expertise, as well as health experts, doctors and others to find answers to your questions. 

But first, here are some links and resources you may be interested in: 

• How to submit your questions: Use this Google form

• Coronavirus basics:  Everything to know, from how it started to symptoms

• Get daily updates in your inbox:  Sign up for the Coronavirus Watch newsletter 

• Don’t see your answer?  Check out the first batch of questions here. 

Can you get COVID-19 from an open cut or blister if it comes in contact with the virus?

– Carole S. from Salem, Oregon 

The coronavirus mostly commonly enters the body through the nose, mouth or eyes, primarily through respiratory droplets. From there, it infects the upper respiratory tract by attaching itself to a host cell, penetrating it and then replicating until the cell dies. 

The virus only attaches to a cell that has a specific type of receptor and it’s unlikely those receptors can be found at a the site of a wound of cut. 

Will microwaving a protective mask kill the virus?

– Garith J. from Weyerhaeuser, Wisconsin 

No, microwaving handmade masks will not kill the virus. Microwaving masks can be especially dangerous if there is metal sewn into the material. 

Additionally, don’t use bleach, alcohol or household cleaners to disinfect masks as ingesting or inhaling these chemicals can be harmful. 

The only way to properly disinfect cloth or homemade masks is to launder them. Experts say to launder mask after every use to be safe. Surgical masks are disposable and can’t be washed.

What can the US do to stop people from getting this virus a second time?

– Lori D. from Huntington Woods, Michigan 

Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard and an expert in public health interventions, said there will likely be a second wave of coronavirus cases if the U.S. prematurely lifts social distancing guidelines before the portion of the population is immune to the disease. 

“A lot of the confusion, in general, is premised on the misunderstanding that if you control the epidemic once, then you’re done,” Lipsitch said. “There’s no reason to think that.”

The two ways that people can become immune is through infection and vaccination, which could take another year to develop and distribute. However, Lipsitch said testing in the U.S. is too far behind to know for sure how the coronavirus is spreading and who could potentially be immune.

Is it effective if I just wear a mask or do I need to wear gloves too?

– Emilee C. from Washington, D.C. 

Gloves provides an extra layer of protection against contaminated, but it’s not crucial to wear them if you’re practicing good hand hygiene and not touching your face. 

The CDC recommends that caregivers of COVID-19 patients wear disposable gloves when handling the patients’ personal items. Wash your hands immediately after removing and disposing the gloves. This process should be repeated after every use. 

Although the CDC doesn’t recommend double gloving when caring for COVID-19 patients, some intensive care doctors are doing it anyway to double their protection against the virus. 

Should I be wiping down every product I buy with a Clorox wipe or a washcloth soaked in bleach? What about using alcohol?

– Jean B. from Charleston, South Carolina, and Helen S. from Denver, Colorado

Do NOT use alcohol or bleach to disinfect your groceries, as it can likely harm you if ingested. In fact, experts say it’s not necessary to disinfect your groceries at all, even with Clorox wipes.

The virus is unlikely to be viable on those surfaces in the trip from the grocery store to your house. However, experts do recommend washing your hands throughout the process of unpacking groceries. 

Wash your hands before and after putting away the groceries, before washing fruit, after wiping down high-touch surface areas and, of course, before preparing a meal. 

And just like before the outbreak, it’s always recommended to wash fruit and vegetables with water before consumption. Experts suggest against using soaps on produce as they’re not meant to be ingested and can cause a stomach distress.

How will we know when this virus has been cleared?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday there are some “positive signs” in the hardest hit areas of the country that show mitigation strategies and social distancing are working.

However, Fauci and other experts warn that the U.S. is still far from claiming victory and must “keep it up” for the next several weeks to see if the numbers are below model predictions.

A study by the University of Washington, released at the end of March and updated Tuesday, predicts a peak daily death toll of 3,130 daily deaths by April 16 with a total of 81,766 COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. by the end of the summer.

However, the study’s projections are lower than others because it assumes a nationwide response similar to that implemented in China, said several experts.

If you think you had the virus but weren’t tested, shouldn’t you get tested now to see if you have the antibodies and can donate plasma?

– Linda from Dracut, Massachusetts

Yes, but that’s not widely available yet, and not everybody qualifies.

Antibody tests can determine if someone had – and recovered from – COVID-19. The tests can tell doctors which staff members may have immunity to the virus and can help researchers figure out how many people were asymptomatic. The tests also are also crucial for vaccine production because, to prove a vaccine works, you must show antibody production in someone who hasn’t been exposed to COVID-19.

Cellex Inc. of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, has received an emergency use authorization for its test from the Food and Drug Administration. It uses blood drawn from a vein to measure antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.  More than 30 companies have similar tests in various stages of readiness, and antibody tests are already being used in several countries, including China, South Korea and Singapore.

Dozens of institutions nationwide are also participating in the National Covid-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, where people who were exposed to or contracted COVID-19 about three weeks ago and recovered can donate the plasma in their blood to people who are currently sick. If you tested positive and fully recovered, you can register on the Plasma Project’s website to see whether you are eligible and if there’s a plasma donation program near you.

So after my 14 days of symptoms, how will I know if I don’t have the virus anymore?

– Julien from Brooklyn, New York

If you’ve tested positive for the virus and are self-isolating, or if you may have been exposed to the virus and are self-quarantining, there are two routes for determining if you can end your home isolation, according to the CDC. And it depends on whether or not you’ll be getting a test.

If you will not have a test to determine if you are still contagious, you can leave home after these three things have happened:

You have had no fever for at least 72 hours (that is three full days of no fever without the use of medicine that reduces fevers) Other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved) At least seven days have passed since your symptoms first appeared

If you will be tested to determine if you are still contagious, you can leave home after these three things have happened:

You no longer have a fever (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers) Other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved) You received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart. Your doctor will follow CDC guidelines.

Can UV radiation from the sun kill the virus?

– Charlie from Dade City, Florida

Experts have advised against using concentrated UV light to prevent or treat the coronavirus and do not recommend going in the sunlight to kill the virus. Only levels of concentration of UV light much higher than what is found in sunlight can kill viruses, the experts note, and the levels that are able to kill viruses can cause irritation to human skin and should be avoided.

Neither sunlight or UV light is listed as a preventative measure on the websites of the World Health Organization or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fact check:Sunlight does not kill the new coronavirus

Can cats transfer the COVID-19 virus to humans?

Too much is unknown about the virus to give a conclusive answer.

The CDC says there’s no evidence to suggest that pets can spread COVID-19 to people. However, the agency says “it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals.”

This is because doctors were concerned that the virus could live on a pet, like any other surface, and infect healthy people. 

However, after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the virus over the weekend, veterinary experts say more research is needed to understand the threat of a pet infecting its owner, even if it appears low.

Some early studies in China suggested it’s possible that cats were infected but their immune systems fought off disease. However, experts say the virus works differently in different species, even species as genetically close as tigers and cats. 

Once on a ventilator, what is the survival rate? How long is an average patient on a ventilator? What percentage of deaths are of ventilated patients?

The data on this is still emerging, but a handful of small studies suggest that the outlook is not good for coronavirus patients who require a ventilator.

A study by doctors at the University of Washington recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that critically ill coronavirus patients spent a prolonged time on respirators.

“In this group, once patients required mechanical ventilation, no one came off within the first week, even younger patients in their 20s,” said Dr. Pavan Bhatraju, a pulmonary and critical care physician with the University of Washington School of Medicine and lead author of the study. 

“It is important to remember that the vast majority of patients who are infected with coronavirus do not require ICU care. However, when patients are requiring ICU level of care they are often needing extended respiratory and vasopressor support,” Bhatraju said. Most of the patients in the study spent an average of 10 days on a ventilator.

Patient data analyzed by doctors in Great Britain and a study by Chinese researchers published in the medical journal Lancet both found high mortality rates for coronavirus patients who were so ill that they required ventilators.

Is it true that everyone who is on unemployment due to COVID-19 will receive an additional $600 a week as part of the stimulus package?

– Hannah from Canton, Ohio 

The stimulus package expands unemployment insurance benefits. If you’ve lost your job because of the outbreak, you will see your weekly state insurance benefits – which average about $400 – increased by $600 for four months. And if you are still unemployed after state benefits end, you could get an additional 13 weeks of help.

Want to know more about the stimulus package and the economy? We answer your questions here. 

Has anyone with preexisting conditions gotten the coronavirus and survived?

– Dee from Arlington, Texas

Yes, many people have. While the risk for serious disease and death from COVID-19 is higher in people who are older or who have certain preexisting conditions, thousands have survived.

Data from the CDC published Tuesday found that, as of March 28, the U.S. reported 2,692 patients who had one or more underlying health conditions. Of those patients, 173 died. This limited data suggests that thousands of people who have one or more underlying health conditions have not died.

Moreover, a February WHO study of more than 70,000 coronavirus patients in China found that people with preexisting conditions had higher fatality rates than those without preexisting conditions: 13.2% for those with cardiovascular disease, 9.2% for diabetes, 8.4% for hypertension, 8.0% for chronic respiratory disease, and 7.6% for cancer. However, those figures suggest that large percentages of people with preexisting conditions survived.

Can the virus be transmitted through the mail?

– Pam from Seven Lakes, North Carolina

The chances of transmission through your mail is very low, said Tania Elliott, clinical instructor of infectious diseases at NYU Langone. “Parts of the virus can fall on surfaces and survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. But you have to have pretty good conditions for that to happen. So the likelihood would be very small, even with no precautions,” she said.

Elliott advises people to put their mail down on a plastic plate instead of directly on a counter top or table, to use a letter opener, and to wash hands thoroughly after touching the mail.

Research on how long a virus may live on surfaces is evolving. The CDC has said there is likely very low risk of transmission of COVID-19 from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces.”

A recent study found that viable virus could be detected up to three hours later in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. But a subsequent report from the CDC found that genetic material from the virus can live on surfaces for more than two weeks.

Contributing: Elizabeth Weise and Molly Stellino, USA TODAY; Sean Lahman, Tracy Schuhmacher and Steve Orr, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Follow Grace Hauck and Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @grace_hauck @AdriannaUSAT.