For decades, Dr. Alan Stewart ’69 has been helping to care for, treat, educate, and support his community of Vincennes, Indiana. Since the pandemic, he has brought that same servant-leadership to his alma mater as a member of the COVID Response Team. On Wittenberg’s Board of Directors since 2016, Dr. Stewart has served as the director of medical education at Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes since 1978. He is also the physician for the Vincennes Community School Corporation, current director of the community health department, a volunteer physician for the local Life After Meth program, and has served as the Knox County Public Health Officer since 2019.
Today, he takes some time to answer a few questions in hopes of helping current students, faculty, and staff better understand the ins and outs of COVID testing, social distancing, and more.
Q: I came in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Should I get tested immediately?
A: If you come in contact with someone with COVID, your test will not immediately turn positive. I usually recommend waiting about five days before testing to give a test time to become positive.
Q: I'm scared I might come down with COVID-19. How long will it take to see symptoms?
A: If you have come in contact with COVID-19, most people develop symptoms within five to eight days as the incubation period. I have seen reports that vary from 2-14 days and one report that is as long as 28 days.
Q: If I need to be tested, what test is the best one?
A: The best test to get is the standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction test). If positive, it is essentially 100% correct. There is about a 30% false negative due to the collection technique of the nasopharyngeal swab and the timing. An antigen test is considered unreliable and usually needs to be confirmed with a PCR test for both possible false positives and false negatives. I feel that the antigen test, therefore, has very little value at this time. Repeat testing is also not recommended due to the fact that the tests may remain positive as a result of the continued presence of nonviable viral particles for an extended period of time after the individual is no longer contagious.
Q: If I already had COVID and completed quarantine, can I infect someone else?
A: The answer is no. You should no longer have live viruses and be contagious. The 10-day isolation period from the onset of symptoms is also used as the standard isolation period after which individuals are felt not to be contagious.
Q: If I've been told I have the antibodies, does that mean I am officially in the clear and cannot get COVID?
A: If one has antibodies, that confirms that one has been exposed to COVID. Antibodies can be separated into IgM and IgG antibodies. IgM antibodies become present within a few days, and IgG antibodies become present in about two weeks. The standard antibody test measures both and may be used to confirm positivity. The IgG antibody test can be used to confirm that an individual had the infection greater than two weeks ago and is no longer contagious. We have used the IgG test in individuals who have been tested in random screenings, but have no symptoms and remember being sick several weeks ago. The positive IgG test clears them from being contagious.
Q: Can you explain the "six-feet with a mask for 15 minutes" rule?
A: The six-feet, 15-minute rule is a good "rule of thumb" used by the CDC to give guidance for whether or not an individual has had enough exposure to have a reasonable chance to become infected. The concentration of the droplets and aerosol decrease significantly more than three-four feet away from an individual (decrease by the square of the distance) and the 15 minutes is the time that one might expect to be exposed to sufficient live virus particles to cause an infection. Both are estimates of percentage risk, and the risk is greatly decreased further when a mask is used by both parties.
Q: What is the best thing I can do right now to avoid getting COVID?
A: The best thing to do to avoid getting COVID is to conscientiously follow rules for wearing masks, keeping social distance, and washing hands. Avoid large crowds, particularly inside. Bars, restaurants and churches seem to be the common social gatherings that have caused significant spread.