As hours pass (presumably this is still happening, even though time seems to no longer make sense), new questions are likely popping into your head. Maybe you are replaying a grocery delivery interaction, wondering if you messed up a critical safety step and now have the virus. Maybe you aren't sure if you can open a window anymore. Or if that jogger who just darted by you exhaled the virus into your nasal passage. Everything about how we live is being questioned, as we attempt to shield ourselves from COVID-19.

We reached out to Stephen Morse, Professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, with some of our latest questions this week. We'll have more, you'll have more, and we'll keep asking them, so email us at if you have any you'd like answered.

I saw a few alarmist tweets about people leaving NYC? What would be the benefit to fleeing, if any?

We’re seeing a lot of flight from the city (especially among those who can afford to go to, say, the Hamptons).  I’m not sure what the benefit is, perhaps it’s largely psychological.  We’ve seen it in this pandemic, and throughout history.  It happened in the medieval plagues, in the plagues in London, as well as many others.  People see infection around them, and hope to escape it by fleeing.  Instead, they may already be infected and are just bringing it to another place, perhaps even introducing it there.

If, as the tweets you refer to suggest, you can really leave without coming in contact with anyone outside your household and stay inside for 2 weeks, at least you’re not infecting anyone else and that’s an ethical approach.  Unfortunately, not everyone will be so scrupulous, so the virus is very likely circulating there anyway.  The end result: you’ll probably still be keeping to yourself, but perhaps in nicer surroundings.

However, if I thought I might get sick, I’d rather be somewhere near a good hospital.

Can I get the virus from touching something?

Remember, we think most infections are spread by the respiratory route, hence the recommendation for social distancing in case someone is sneezing or coughing, to get out of inhalation range of infected droplets.  There is probably some secondary infection by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching your face.  Yes, the virus can survive on many surfaces from hours to days, unless they’re cleaned, but we don’t how important that is.  I suspect the risk may be overemphasized, so we just want to play it safe and develop good hygiene habits.

Is grocery delivery safer than a trip to the supermarket? If I get groceries delivered, is there any chance of getting the virus if I unpack everything, transfer the items to new packaging, throw away the original packaging, wipe all the areas any of it touched, and then wash my hands?

In general, delivery is safer than going to the supermarket, as you have more close (and potentially infectious) contacts in a supermarket than when you get a delivery (hard to do real social distancing in our narrow aisles).  The supermarket clerks are at still greater risk, so be considerate.  Still, even with deliveries, the usual precautions apply: Face-to-face contact at about 6 ft. distance (this can be done without being offensive).  Wash hands when you touch potentially contaminated surfaces.

Your suggestion is quite thorough.  Wash you hands when you handle exterior packaging and before unpacking.  Yes, throw away original outside packaging, wipe areas where you put it down, and wash your hands.  That’s pretty thorough, probably more than really necessary, but let’s say we do want to play it safe.  No need to be obsessive, just think about your actions.

But the greatest risk is probably from being within breathing distance of infected people.  The others are precautions that may prevent some infections, but we don’t know how important they are.  Do it to be on the safe side.  And don’t touch your face unless you’ve cleaned your hands!

Can I open my windows for fresh air?

If you’re not in the basement or on the ground floor with people walking by (and don’t have coughing or sneezing neighbors in a balcony immediately above, below, or next to you), it should be fine to open windows.  Weather permitting, fresh air is good.  It helps to counter that stuffy feeling when you’re indoors.  Other things may fly in your windows (pigeons?), but not coronavirus.

This photo was taken on March 24th, 2020 at Carl Schurz Park

A runner just snuck up on me, passing by and completely ignoring the 6-foot rule... can I get the virus this way if they are infected?

Morse was on the Brian Lehrer Show today, and actually answered this there. He said if someone passes you within a few feet, instead of six, "The risk is going to increase if someone has the infection, and with the amount of time you may be near them... if they're coughing or sneezing in your direction and are infected and you are close, then you have a better chance of getting infected. People who are just walking or running by, the chances are if they are not coughing or sneezing at that moment you have a very low likelihood of getting infected. Nothing is ever completely without risk, but probably for most people it's going to be very low risk. Be careful, but these very short encounters are not likely to be major sources of spread."

You can listen to that full segment below, where Morse also notes that in some parts of Italy they've fully stopped jogging and biking as an extra precaution: