COVID - 19 Questions & Answers

The Township has gathered some commonly asked questions that residents may have about COVID-19, testing and available support.  Answers can be found here. If you have additional questions, please reach out:

  • Linda Palumbo, Berkeley Heights Board of Health Secretary (lpalumbo@bhtwp.com)
  • Liza Viana, Township Business Administrator (lviana@bhtwp.com)

Updated May 4, 2020

Q. Is a patient still contagious after they recover from COVID-19?

People are thought to be most contagious when they are symptomatic (the sickest). That is why the CDC recommends that these patients be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others. More recently the virus has also been detected in asymptomatic persons. How long someone is actively sick can vary so the decision on when to release someone from isolation is made using a test-based or non-test-based strategy (i.e. time since illness started and time since recovery) in consultation with state and local public health officials. The decision involves considering the specifics of each situation, including disease severity, illness signs and symptoms, and the results of laboratory testing for that patient.

Q. How long does the virus last on surfaces?

Currently, experts do not know exactly how long the virus can stay infectious because it is so new. Typically, viruses last longer on hard surfaces, like a countertop or plastic or metal playground equipment, than on soft surfaces, like a sleeve, because they depend on moisture to survive. Soft surfaces quickly absorb the moisture, leaving the virus unprotected and causing it to degrade more quickly. Scientists are estimating that the virus lasts for between a few hours to several days outside the body, and can last up to 24 hours on cardboard and 3 days on plastic or stainless steel.

Q. Can a patient catch COVID-19 a second time? How long does immunity to COVID-19 last?

Experts expect that the majority of people who recover from COVID-19 will gain immunity to the novel coronavirus for at least some amount of time. The question is, for how long. Scientists are studying whether children and adults who have only mild symptoms will still generate a strong enough immune response to remain resistant to the virus until a vaccine is available 12-18 months from now.

Q. When can an employee return to work after a positive COVID-19 case?

If you test positive for COVID-19 and are not hospitalized or are discharged before all symptoms have resolved, you should discuss with your employer when to return to work. Sick employees need to first take these steps, then meet all the criteria in order to discontinue home isolation.. In general, healthcare workers may stop home isolation 7 days after you first developed symptoms AND 72 hours (3 days) after your fever has ended without the use of fever-reducing medications and your symptoms have significantly improved (whichever period is longer).  Additionally, you may be asked to wear a mask at work until symptoms have completely resolved or until 14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer.  You may also be restricted from caring for severely immunocompromised patients (e.g., transplant, hematology-oncology) until 14 days after illness onset.  In certain crisis situations the above recommendations may be relaxed, but any earlier return to work should be done only in consultation with your employer and occupational health. See additional guidance for healthcare workers here. 

Q. How does an employee get a COVID-19 test once they are symptom free? COVID-19 tests are only for patients with symptoms......

At this time, testing is prioritized for individuals who are sick with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath where they need hospitalization, those who are close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and individuals who traveled to/from highly affected areas. If you do not have symptoms, testing is not recommended.

Q. If a person is experiencing a high fever with a COVID-19 diagnosis, is Tylenol or Advil recommended? Why?

Over-the-counter options for fever reducers include ibuprofen and acetaminophen. The World Health Organization (WHO) has clarified that it does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen as a self-medication for treating fever or pain linked to COVID-19. WHO is gathering more data before making a formal recommendation. Likewise, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is not aware of scientific evidence connecting the use of NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, with worsening COVID-19 symptoms. Patients who have been prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs should talk to their doctors or healthcare providers before changing any medications.

Q. Update on a potential COVID-19 vaccine? 

Before being licensed for wide use, new vaccines must be tested to see if they are safe and effective. In the U.S., a vaccine can be used before it is licensed but this requires an Emergency Use Authorization and an informed consent process.

For example, Johnson & Johnson is one of the many companies developing a vaccine that would introduce patients to a deactivated version of the virus, triggering an immune response without causing infection. Human trials could begin by November. At the same time, J&J is working with the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority on potential treatments for patients who are already infected, a process that includes investigating whether any of its older medicines might work against the coronavirus.

Many organizations are working on developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Public health officials estimate that a safe and effective vaccine may be ready for the public in 12-18 months. Efforts are also underway to develop antiviral treatments that could help those infected by the COVID-19 virus.

The Milken Institute has a resource here that tracks COVID-19 treatments and vaccine progress. 

Q. Will we see a decrease during the summer months in new COVID-19 cases? Only to return in the Fall? 

Concerns will linger until there is more scientific data about the behavior of COVID-19 and its impacts. Concerns will exist as long as the virus continues to spread rapidly. Studies published so far have conflicting results regarding potential seasonal effects on the virus, and they are hampered by poor data quality, geography-related confounding factors such as access to and quality of health care and the availability of diagnostics, and insufficient time since the beginning of the pandemic from which to draw conclusions.

Q. Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine combined with the antibiotic azithromycin feedback? Is this drug working?

While there is some evidence that chloroquine phosphate and a related compound hydroxychloroquine can be effective against COVID-19, most of the data we have is "in vitro," meaning experiments done in the test tube and not in humans. It is too early to say definitively whether these drugs will be effective in fighting COVID-19, and thorough clinical trials are underway to determine effectiveness in people. It is important to note that chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine can be toxic, and should not be used unless prescribed by a doctor. There have been several reports of individuals trying to self-medicate and dying from "chloroquine poisoning."

Q. Where are we as a County testing all First Responders who may be asymptomatic?

In order to help key emergency personnel get a COVID-19 test as quickly as possible, the Union County COVID-19 Test Center at Kean University is available to first responders and certain health care workers in New Jersey, regardless of their place of work or residence. Those covered by the new procedures are: fire fighters, police officers, EMTs, 911 tele-communicators, Medical Reserve Corps members, all hospital employees, staff at long term care facilities and nursing homes, and home health aides.

First Responders can call 908-373-5105 or 908-214-7107 (no walk-ins are admitted). Discuss symptoms by phone with a triage nurse. The nurse will schedule an appointment at the Test Center for patients who meet guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control. Persons with an appointment can proceed to the Testing Center at their scheduled time (no doctor visit or prescription is required).

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Q. How can I best protect myself and my family?

A. EVERY SINGLE RESIDENT needs to practice self-distancing. This is THE most proactive thing you can do. That means STAY AT HOME. If you have to go out to the store, stay 6 feet away from others if possible. Make sure your children are not congregating with other children - they can be carriers and pass it on to others in your family. Please read this article from Johns Hopkins University on the importance of social distancing. 

"With COVID-19, the goal of social distancing right now is to slow down the outbreak in order to reduce the chance of infection among high-risk populations and to reduce the burden on health care systems and workers. Experts describe this as ’flattening the curve,’ which generally refers to the potential success of social distancing measures to prevent surges in illness that could overwhelm health care systems.

"’The goal of social distancing in the U.S. should be to lower the pace and extent of spread of COVID-19 in any given city or community ... If that can happen, then there will be less people with disease, and less people needing hospitalization and ventilators at any one time.’"

New Jersey COVID-19 Dashboard

Q. What is the process for getting tested?

A. The County and Township follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) guidance to determine who should be tested for COVID-19 at the NJ Public Health Environmental Laboratory. If you exhibit symptoms, please contact your health care professional; he or she may write you a prescription for a Coronavirus test if they think you may have been exposed. Please call ahead of time to tell your doctor you are coming; they may have specific instructions for you.

Patients should be evaluated and discussed with local and state public health on a case-by-case basis if their clinical presentation or exposure history is uncertain for travel or exposure.

Clinical Features

&

Epidemiologic Risk

Fever1 or signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g. cough or shortness of breath)

AND

Any person, including health care workers2 who has had close contact3 with a laboratory confirmed4 COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptom onset

Fever1 and signs/symptoms of a lower respiratory illness (e.g., cough or shortness of breath) requiring hospitalization

AND

A history of travel from affected geographic areas5  within 14 days of symptom onset

Fever1 with severe acute lower respiratory illness (e.g. pneumonia, ARDS) requiring hospitalization4 and without alternative explanatory diagnosis (e.g., influenza)6

AND

No source of exposure has been identified


Commercial labs are offering COVID-19 testing to individuals who meet certain criteria. These tests must be ordered and specimens collected by health care providers in their offices. Testing is not available at individual lab offices (i.e., local LabCorp or Quest labs). Do not go to a commercial lab and ask to be tested for COVID-19. Work with your health care provider to coordinate testing. All costs and fees associated with commercial laboratories is the responsibility of the patient.

Beginning Monday, March 23, a Union County testing site has been set up at Kean University. More information here.

Q. Has affected BH residents’ whereabouts been investigated to figure out who else may have been exposed?

Yes. Union County health officials conduct contact tracing investigations, alongside the New Jersey Department of Health, on affected residents’ whereabouts to determine if he/she posed a public health risk to the community at any time Any person who may be at risk would be notified and advised to self-quarantine for 14 days. The families would also be quarantined.

Q. Are kids getting tested if parents are confirmed positive or may have been exposed?

A. Anyone who is seeking testing should contact their health care provider to determine if testing appropriate.

Q. Has UCOHM (Union County Office of Health Management) contacted all individuals who may have come into contact with any patients diagnosed with COVID-19?

A. As of Friday, March 13, the first Berkeley Heights resident who had COVID-19 was discharged from the hospital and self-isolating back at home. Our Health Officer was in touch with his family every day. As of Tuesday, March 10, based on the contact tracing investigation that Union County has been doing, alongside the New Jersey Department of Health, the resident’s whereabouts prior to being hospitalized did not pose a public health risk to the community. Any person who may have been at risk would have already been notified and advised to self-quarantine. The family was also quarantined. 

Q. What is our Health Official’s role? 

A. Our Health Officer, who is also the Health Director for Union County, is the Township’s conduit (including the Board of Education) to the County, State and Federal health agencies/departments for all health-related information. Our Office of Emergency Management has a direct line of communication with our Health Officials, as does our Mayor, Administrator, and local Board of Health Secretary. This Official provides guidance on how to handle, as well as response to, any health issues that may arise in the Township.

Q. Is the Health Official in constant contact with affected families/individuals? 

A.  Yes

Q. When will schools be closed? Move to online classes?

A. The decision to close schools was made Thursday, March 12; schools begin remote learning Tuesday, March 17. Please read the letter from Berkeley Heights Schools Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley here. 

Q. Who should I call/what should I do if I think I have symptoms? 

A. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Those symptoms may appear within 2 to 14 days of exposure and can range from mild to severe. If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms. Communicate travel history and symptoms before arriving at a doctor’s office or health care facility, enabling the provider to determine the best setting for you to receive care. They may have specific instructions for you before you head into the office, and likely will instruct you to wear a mask. They will decide whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill are able to isolate at home.

Stay home except to get medical care: Restrict your activities to limit the spread of the virus. If your symptoms are not severe, consider going online and using telehealth for 24/7 access to board certified physicians for consultations, diagnosis and treatment

Separate yourself from others.

Q. Should I drive myself to the hospital or call emergency services?

A. Drive yourself if you can after getting instructions from your doctor, unless you are physically unable. But your first call is to your doctor.

Q. Is it safe to go to the store, etc…?

A. All residents are encouraged to practice self-distancing. If you go out, maintain a 6-foot distance from others, when possible. As a reminder, if you are experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath call your healthcare provider prior to arriving at the office.