Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S., Axios is answering readers' questions about the pandemic — how it spreads, who's at risk, and what you can do to stay safe.

What's new: This week, we answer five questions on smokers' vulnerability, food safety, visiting older parents, hair cut needs, and rural vs. urban impact.

Q: I've been a smoker for years. Am I more likely to get the coronavirus?

  • Being a former or current smoker does not necessarily make you more likely to catch the virus, but it could make your symptoms worse if you do catch it. The same goes for vapers and anybody with asthma.
  • Panagis Galiatsatos, director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medicine, strongly recommends that smokers use the outbreak as an impetus to quit, so "your lungs can reserve all of [their] energy" to fight the virus.

Q: What is the best way to make sure my food deliveries, takeout and packages are all coronavirus-free?

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after handling a package, making a trip to the grocery store, or having a quick food run.
  • The Food and Drug Administration says there's no evidence that the virus can be transmitted via food. The best thing, of course, is to keep washing your fruit and vegetables with water and possibly with mild soap or fruit/vegetable washes.

Q: My older parents have been quarantined for the past two weeks, and nobody in my family has shown any symptoms. Is it safe for us to visit them and take our kids with us?

  • It's risky. It only takes one infected person to spread the virus, and you can be contagious before you start feeling any symptoms, Axios' Stef Kight writes.
  • If you do decide to check in on older family members, make sure everybody is washing their hands and keeping a six-foot distance from one another.

Q: I'm long overdue for a haircut. Is it safe to get one?

  • Many state and local governments have ordered salons, spas, and other grooming places to shut down, in the hopes of containing the virus.
  • The more often you venture outside, the more exposed you are and the higher your chances of infection.

Q: How is the COVID-19 outbreak affecting rural areas of the country, compared to the major cities?

  • Americans living in rural parts of the country will find it easier than city dwellers to stay away from crowds. But rural communities have more limited access to health care, and people living in rural areas tend to be older, putting them at higher risk, Axios' Kim Hart notes.
  • Many jobs in rural communities, like those in the service and agriculture sectors, don't offer paid sick leave.

Got a question? Send it to We'll get in touch with the experts and answer a new batch of questions every Saturday.

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