Q: A co-worker in my office is coughing constantly. What steps can employees take to make sure this employee is not a carrier of the virus?

A: Regardless of whether you may have the new coronavirus, public health experts say you should stay home if you’re sick. If a colleague is coughing constantly, they should work from home or take paid sick leave if possible, according to the best current medical advice. If possible, you should encourage your colleague to stay home and to contact their personal physician or the Victoria COVID-19 hotline at 361-580-5796 to discuss their symptoms and any possible exposure they may have had to the virus.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing and shortness of breath; you can’t know for sure whether a colleague or neighbor has COVID-19 or just a common cold, but at this time experts say it is better to be on the safe side and stay home if you are sick.

“For God’s sake, if you’re sick, stay home,” Dr. John McNeill, Victoria’s public health authority, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Regardless of whether your colleague stays in the office, you should continue to practice social distancing and keep a distance of at least six feet from others, particularly those who might be sick.

To keep yourself safe, you should also continue to practice best hygiene, most importantly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Hand washing might seem like a simple step, but based on what we know about this new coronavirus, it’s one of the best and most effective tools for limiting the spread.

Daniel M. Parker, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, said “Coronaviruses are not particularly tough. Soap and water will kill them.”

“Wet your hands under running water (can be warm or cold), apply soap, lather your hands well and scrub all over, then rinse your hands under running water,” Parker said in a statement.

Along with washing your hands frequently, you should refrain from touching your face. One of the main ways that experts believe the virus spreads is through droplets that come from an infected person’s nose or mouth. Those droplets could be inhaled by someone in close proximity, or they could land on objects or surfaces near the person, according to the World Health Organization. The virus could spread if healthy people touch these objects or surfaces, then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. That’s why experts emphasize washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching your face, so the virus never gets a chance to enter your body.

Another good step for workplaces is to disinfect areas that are touched frequently. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of registered household disinfectants that are expected to kill COVID-19 based on data from similar viruses.

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. She reports on insurance, the cost of health care, local hospitals, and more. Questions, tips, or ideas? Contact: or call 361-580-6597.

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