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Virtual visit, real expertise: COVID-19 Q&A with infection control expert Jen LeRose

Throughout this school year, Homewood Science Center has been collaborating with Rich Township High School District 227 to offer Girls STEAM Ahead Success, a STEM education and workforce development program funded through a Cook County Community Development Block Grant.

During Illinois’ stay-at-home order, we’re using virtual visits to meet with students in the program. One happy outcome of the virtual programming is that we are able to include mentors from our annual Girls STEAM Ahead conference, such as Girls STEAM Ahead 2018 attendee Jen LeRose.

Jen holds a Master of Public Health, Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology degree from the University of Michigan and is currently a medical student at Michigan State University. Previously, she served as the Manager of Infection Control and Prevention at Detroit Medical Center, which is now considered a pandemic hot zone. Jen grew up in Flossmoor and Frankfort. Her mother, Ilene LeRose, serves as secretary for Homewood Science Center’s Board of Directors.

The Girls STEAM Ahead Success students wrote questions for Jen and we thought the community would be interested in seeing her expert responses.

Jen prefaced her answers by clarifying that she will refer to the novel coronavirus as COVID-19, rather than the full name of “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2),” for ease. In COVID-19, “CO” stands for “corona,” “VI” for “virus,” and “D” for disease. The “19” references 2019.


What do you think is a credible source of information for COVID-19?

I like to get my information from either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). Both groups have longstanding reputations for working with experts in the field and base their recommendations on research. Each has dedicated websites to learn about COVID-19 and the steps you can take to protect yourself.

The CDC recently updated their recommendations on wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). But what about gloves?

Grocery shopping during COVID-19 is proving especially tricky, as you come into contact with many people and touch countless surfaces! Experts recommend grocery delivery when possible, but of course that is not always possible. Here are some recommendations to stay safe at the grocery store if you must venture out:

Try to go at off hours to minimize the number of people you come into contact with. Try to avoid aisles that are particularly crowded, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend staying 6 feet apart from other people; you can always circle back to an aisle when it is less crowded. Also, try to send only one person from a household to the store as more people = more risk!

The CDC currently does not recommend use of gloves for the grocery store. Although COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets (think of somebody coughing on you - yuck!), it can be contracted from touching dirty objects and then touching your face (nose, mouth, eyes). Therefore, the most important way to prevent such spread is keeping your hands clean, trying to touch as few items as possible, and keeping your hands away from your face! If you think about it logically, gloves are similar to having an extra layer of skin - if your gloves are dirty and you touch your face, you are just as likely to contract the disease as somebody without gloves. Instead of bringing gloves to the store, I would recommend bringing hand sanitizer so you can immediately clean your hands after touching surfaces, and wiping down the cart handles. Also, when you get home, scrub your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds!

If possible, pay with something like Apple Pay where you can just tap your phone for payment. If this is not possible, try using a debit or credit card that you can wipe down after use. If you must use cash, wash your hands thoroughly immediately after handling.

To further minimize interaction with others, use a self-checkout line. If there isn’t one available, keep 6 feet between you and the cashier.

How are you or your coworkers, as medical professionals, being cautious during this pandemic and the spread of it in the workplace? Are there any steps that you are taking differently than others are? Did you have any trouble deciding whether or not you should continue to work while COVID-19 is going on?

Wow! What a question. It is truly a scary time to be in the healthcare field with so much unknown. However, none of my friends have questioned whether or not they should continue to work; we all went into healthcare to help others and that’s exactly what we are doing. That is not to say it’s not scary, because it definitely is(!), but we know that this is what we have to do.

As for different precautions, healthcare workers going into patients’ rooms wear a mask, gown and gloves to prevent breathing in COVID-19 droplets and contaminating their clothing. Everybody is washing their hands so much that we’re sleeping with lotion and gloves on because our skin is SO dry! Also, when we get home, we keep our shoes in the garage (spray them with Lysol), throw our clothes in the washer and immediately head for the shower. We don’t want to bring home any germs! Some of the doctors that work with the sickest patients are actually sleeping in a different location than home (i.e., other doctors’ houses) so they don’t put their families at risk.

Are there any type of home remedies to make sure we don’t get it, such as helping our immune system?

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease. Experts do not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19. However, getting enough sleep, maintaining an exercise routine and eating healthy will help keep your immune system strong to prevent any disease, including COVID-19!

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