Can I fly safely? How can we have a wedding? COVID-19 questions answered by Wisconsin health experts

John Diedrich
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
When traveling by air wearing a masks is a best practice.

As our world continues to open amid the coronavirus pandemic, we are tracking the numbers. But many of us have questions about how we can protect ourselves and others. What can we do to slow the transmission of COVID-19?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has assembled a panel of experts from the University of Wisconsin's Madison and Milwaukee campuses. They will periodically answer questions from readers. This is the second installment. Read the first here.

We also have doctors answering your personal health questions. And here are other pieces discussing risks and answering your questions

Please keep in mind scientists and doctors continue to learn much about this new virus, and guidance is changing. They will provide the best information that is available.

This story will update with more answers as we get them. Scroll to the bottom of this story to submit your own question or click here.

I am scheduled to fly next week. What precautions should my wife and I be taking?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still urge individuals to avoid non-essential travel, especially if you are sick. If you must travel by plane, there are things you can do to make it as safe as possible. Also, there are a few changes to be aware of: 

  1. Wear a mask and maintain a six-foot distance from those outside your household, including while in line for check-in, at security, waiting at the gate, and boarding.
  2. Passengers are allowed one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces in carry-on luggage. Bring it and use it!
  3. Changes are coming to the security process to minimize TSA worker contact with your personal belongings. You may be asked to scan your own boarding pass. Also, carry-on food needs to be separated into a clear plastic bag, and if you forget to remove something like a laptop, you may be asked to exit security to remove it yourself.
  4. Many airlines are limiting snacks and beverages available in-flight. Bring your own.
  5. Many airlines are capping seats per flight, keeping middle seats empty, and seating alternating rows. This varies so you may still end up with people seated nearby. Keep your mask on (many airlines require this) and choose a window seat if available.
  6. Disinfect armrests, tray tables and window ledges (travelers are also permitted to bring individually-packaged alcohol or anti-bacterial wipes in carry-on luggage).
  7. Be aware that your destination or home state may have a health or travel advisory as well as guidelines for self-quarantine after travel.
  8. Consider minimizing close contact with others for 14 days after you fly, particularly if you live with or are visiting someone who is at high risk of complications from COVID-19.
  9. Monitor your symptoms and get tested if you suspect you have COVID-19 and wait to travel back home until you have met the criteria for ending isolation if you test positive. For more tips, see a related post on the Dear Pandemic Facebook Page

-- Amanda M. Simanek, PhD, MPH, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Zilber School of Public Health and associate editor for the Dear Pandemic Facebook page.

How effective is taking a person’s temperature as a safeguard?

In general, having an oral temperature of 100.4 F or higher may be a cause of concern, especially in infants. Although some people with COVID-19 have no symptoms, when symptoms do occur, fever is among the more common.

-- Ajay Sethi, PhD, MHS, associate professor, Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Is it safe to get together in small gatherings with friends at home if you stay outside? Say eight people or fewer?

Getting together in small gatherings can be safe, but it depends on the potential exposures of those getting together. The safest way is for one family to get together with another family, when each family has had very limited exposures outside the home. In effect, a gathering of two families who have been self-quarantined maintains each family’s low risk of illness. The risk can be further reduced by gathering outdoors, and keeping a safe distance between unrelated families.

-- Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, professor emeritus, Department of Population Health Sciences at the UW-Madison.

My hairdresser is open but says she and her coworker will not be wearing masks. Is it safe for me to go to her? I am 66 with no underlying health issues, but I wear a mask when I am out.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has specific guidance for hairdressers, who fall under the category of those providing personal services. The WEDC recommends that hairdressers wear a mask at all times, and they should encourage clients to wear them as well. You may consider sharing these guidelines with your hairdresser.

-- Ajay Sethi

What are the precautions I should take when having a service person in my home? Normally at this time of year, we have our air conditioner "tuned" and checked for any problems.

When considering having a service person in your home for maintenance or repairs, here are a few guidelines.

  1. Can it wait?
  2. Who is doing the work? Besides checking the qualifications of anyone you hire, you might also consider inquiring about the company's COVID-19-related safety practices around mask and hand sanitizer use while carrying out jobs.
  3. What will be the level and duration of contact required to carry out the job? To the extent possible, maintain social distance between household members and the service person(s), as well as among the service team. Open windows, wear masks and limit the number of household members present and length of close contact as best you can.
  4. What are the risks to the service person(s)? Protecting the service crew is also important. It is best to delay home maintenance or repairs if a household member is ill or supposed to be self-quarantining because of contact with a case of COVID-19.

For more tips, see a related post on the Dear Pandemic Facebook page.

-- Amanda M. Simanek

With people that have tested positive, coming back to work because they felt fine, are they still able to transmit the disease to others? How do they know that they aren’t?

If someone tested negative before returning to work, then they are no longer infected and will not be able to transmit the disease to others. If using symptoms as a guide, the CDC recommends that a person wait at least three days after recovery, defined as having no fever without medication and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough, shortness of breath), and wait at least 10 days after symptoms first appeared. If they follow these guidelines, then they are not likely to be infectious.

-- Ajay Sethi

I have been staying at home and when I do go to the grocery store I wear a mask. My husband works and all the people he works with wear masks. I've been hearing because we are isolating ourselves more we are going to be more susceptible to catching other viruses, like the common cold. Is this true? If it is, what should I do so I don't get sick?

You are less likely to pick up an infection if you are minimizing your contact with others. Your immune system is not being weakened by staying at home and only going out for groceries. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and seeking healthcare when needed are the best ways to keep yourself from getting really sick.

-- Ajay Sethi

It's finally outdoor tennis season; if I avoid touching my face after handling the ball and wash my hands after playing, is it safe?

The coronavirus can survive on surfaces for a short time, but it is much less likely when those surfaces are dry and exposed to heat and sunlight. Regardless, it is best to develop a habit of not touching your face, unless your hands have been washed or sanitized.

-- Patrick Remington

I have a wedding in September this year. Wondering if by chance that may happen? (ideas for how it could happen?)

A wedding can be a very risky setting, since they often involve a large number of people who spend time close together for a long time, often indoors. This risk could be reduced by having a smaller number of guests, who practice physical distancing and wear masks. Holding the wedding outdoors would also reduce the risk.

-- Patrick Remington

Can the COVID-19 virus live on frozen items in a home freezer become infectious when thawed out at a future date?

The virus may be able to be recovered after freezing, but it is highly unlikely to be able to infect a person after thawing out, since the freezing may dry out the virus and inactivate it. It is also likely to be in such a small dose that causing a serious infection is unlikely.

-- Patrick Remington

Curious if you ran into any studies on if/how exhaling from vaping and smoking can spread the virus and to what rate/level. I feel like we have frequently run into "clouds" of smoke/vape. Wondering how concerned we should be about this and if public places should be more diligent with creating/enforcing rules on this?

Viruses are transmitted in water vapor, similar to the vapor that can been seen when someone is vaping. It is possible that these “clouds” could cause infection in another person, so I would certainly avoid them.

-- Patrick Remington

Amanda M. Simanek, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Zilber School of Public Health and Associate Editor for the Dear Pandemic Facebook page (
Dr. Patrick Remington, epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ajay Sethi, associate professor of population health sciences, teaches at the Unversity of Wisconsin-Madison.

Contact John Diedrich at (414) 224-2408 or Follow him on Twitter at @john_diedrich, Instagram at @john_diedrich, LinkedIn or Facebook.