Is it safe to borrow library books? Your COVID-19 questions answered

We’re answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish a selection of answers every weekday online, and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far we’ve received more than 38,000 emails from all corners of the country.

How safe will it be to borrow library books?

Jan A., a librarian and school teacher in Vancouver, wonders how to make sure books are safe to be loaned out and returned once libraries reopen.

“I currently have over 1,000 books signed out to students,” she writes. “I’d like to know if the virus could be present on returning library books. Some of the books are paperback, and some of the books have mylar or laminated plastic covers.”

According to Dr. Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, the precautions for books should be the same as anything else you come into contact with.

“Book borrowing is a bit like grocery shopping,” said Furness. “You are touching items and bringing them into your house. We can’t wash or boil books, obviously. So, the thing to do is to clean your hands after touching them before touching your face, and to let them sit for 24 hours.”

“The virus on a book should be completely inactive after 24 hours,” Furness said.

Coronaviruses are most commonly spread via respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or by close, prolonged personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands.

“Libraries are not usually crowded but they do get a lot of traffic over the course of the day, so I would have hand sanitizer with me and I’d use it after touching anything, such as door handles,” Furness said.

The most important thing to remember, he says, no matter where you are or what you’re dealing with, is to not touch your face and to keep good hand hygiene.

“Touch matters a lot,” he said. “Any time you’re not 100 per cent sure in the age of COVID, be mindful of what your hands are doing. Your hands won’t make you sick, but your hands touching your face can. That’s the last step in the chain of transmission.”

What’s the best way to wear a mask?

The face mask has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the pandemic. But many Canadians tell us they’re alarmed by the mask faux pas of others.

“I keep on seeing people wearing their mask under their nose,” wrote Claude C. “I’ve told some of them they need to cover their nose … and they either say it’s too hard to breathe, or they only lower it to talk.”

“Not to mention they are touching their face each time they manipulate the mask,” he adds.

Claude’s right.

Furness says wearing a mask can be dangerous if worn incorrectly or if people have incorrect expectations.

Here are some mask basics for those who may be afraid to ask.

First, make sure you’re putting it on, and taking it off, properly. That means washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds — or cleaning your hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer — before putting it on and taking it off.

WATCH | Infection prevention specialist Brenda Earles demonstrates:

Handle the mask only by the ear straps, placing the fabric over your face from above your nose to your chin. And while you may be tempted to fiddle with it while you’re out, try to imagine that the front of the mask is contaminated, so keep your hands off.

When taking it off, handle it only by the straps again, and discard disposable masks immediately into a garbage bin or bag. Washable masks should go directly into the wash or be stored in a closed bag until you can launder it. Then wash or sanitize your hands again.

Read more about proper disposal of used protective equipment.

Is someone with asthma more at-risk?

Abbey L. from Port Credit Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., is wondering if there’s anything extra that people with asthma need to do to stay safe.

Asthma is listed by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) as one of the underlying health conditions that put one at greater risk for COVID-19, along with diabetes, hypertension, chronic lung disease and a weakened immune system, among others.

“There’s no evidence that you are more likely to catch the virus if you have asthma,” according to respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta.

However, if you catch it, it’s likely you may have “a more severe form” of the infection.

WATCH | COVID-19 could be more severe in people with asthma:

People with asthma aren’t at higher risk of getting COVID-19, but an infection could result in more severe symptoms. 0:52

“We know that asthma tends to flare up when people get viruses,” said Gupta. “That’s one of the common reasons people have asthma flare-ups and often end up in the emergency room.”

He said the virus that causes COVID-19 may cause a similar asthmatic flare-up and a more severe infection.

Dr. Lisa Barrett from Dalhousie University’s division of infectious diseases agrees.

She said it’s likely that asthmatics who get the infection “may develop more difficulty breathing and have more severe complications,” even if they’re young.

Barrett’s number one precaution for those with asthma is to continue practising physical distancing and to stay at least two meters from people.

She also echoes the advice of health experts that includes washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, not touching your face, and wearing a mask when in public.

“That’s going to stay the same advice until we are well beyond the current situation with COVID-19,” said Barrett.

WATCH | We’re also answering your questions every night on The National: Last night, you asked our medical expert: Will public transit be safe?

Infectious disease specialists answer viewer questions about reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2:59

Thursday, we answered questions about organ donation and restaurant utensils.

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at .

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