It’s hard not to get hysterical about the spread of the coronavirus. It’s a novel virus—which means it’s never been seen before—and the illness it causes, COVID-19, can be serious for people over 60 as well as those with underlying health conditions, especially diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illnesses like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.
Because this coronavirus is so new, we don’t have much data on it. We do know about other coronaviruses—including the one that causes SARS and the ones that cause many colds in the US every year—so we’re presuming this coronavirus acts in similar ways. Based on these assumptions, there are things you can do to protect yourself from getting sick, both at home and when you’re out and about.
Like the common cold and influenza virus, COVID-19 can survive very well in cool, dry temperatures—anywhere from a few hours to nine days, depending on the temperature and location.
COVID-19 enters your body when you touch a surface where the germ is living and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth. That’s why not touching your face and washing your hands often is crucial. So is killing the virus to stop its spread. Here’s how…
Clean high-traffic surfaces at least daily. These include counters, desks, tabletops, phones, computer keyboards and mouse, tablets, television remote controls and your bedside table. You should also swab down the bathroom and kitchen sink, bathroom fixtures and the toilet. If someone in your house is sick with COVID-19, clean these areas two or three times a day.
Use a disinfectant wipe when you clean. You want to concentrate on smooth, nonporous surfaces. The easiest way to clean these surfaces is to use a wipe that contains quaternary ammonium compounds (quat), which is found in most disinfecting wipes, such as from Clorox and Lysol. Why wipes? Because you are more likely to let the disinfectant dry naturally after you use one, which gives it time to kill the virus. Sure, you can use a quat-based spray on surfaces, but you have to wait about 10 minutes before you wipe it dry. Avoid white vinegar sprays for now because we don’t know if it’s effective against this virus.
Don’t worry too much about soft surfaces. Blankets, sheets, carpets, someone’s jacket—it’s harder for a virus to transfer to your fingers from these types of surfaces. Pillowcases could be a concern, although there is no data on this. You could change them nightly to be safe.Also, don’t worry about mail and packages being contaminated even if the mail carrier is sick and doesn’t know it yet.There is low transfer of virus from paper to the hands because paper is porous and absorbs a lot of the fluid the virus may be suspended in.
Use liquid soaps. That way, when you and your family members wash hands, you’re not contaminating each other.
Put a bottle of hand sanitizer next to entrances. We have done studies on virus contamination of surfaces in homes, and once-a-day use of hand sanitizer seems to be enough to break the movement of viruses around the household. Place hand sanitizer near the front door, and ask everyone to use it when they come inside so no one brings viruses into the household. Even better, have everyone wash their hands thoroughly as soon as they come into the home. Don’t rely on an air purifier to kill the virus. It won’t unless it has a HEPA filter.
It is not necessary to shower as soon as you get home since it is largely your hands we are worried about. But If you are taking care of an ill person with coronavirus, change and wash your clothes every day.
When You’re Out
It takes, on average, five days for people infected with COVID-19 to show symptoms, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. So even if people aren’t coughing and sneezing, they still could be passing on the virus. Besides staying away from crowds and washing your hands as soon as you get home, here’s how best to stay healthy:
Always have a bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse or pocket. Use one that contains 60% to 70% alcohol, and squirt it on your hands often—when you get off the bus, when you leave the grocery store, when you walk out of a public restroom. Keep one in your car, too.
Take extra care at the store. Some areas that might contain more COVID-19, at least based on studies done on viruses that cause colds—self-checkout counters and serving spoons at the prepared food stations. Apply hand sanitizer after using those. Consider going to the supermarket at off hours to minimize exposure to other people.
Swab down your car—especially if you’ve driven a sick person to the doctor or your children/grandchildren anywhere. A car isn’t a particularly germy place if you’re the only person in it. But it can become a virus magnet once children or sick people go for a ride. Use disinfecting wipes to clean the often-touched areas—steering wheel, controls, armrests, door handles and the child/baby seat if there’s one.
Don’t go too crazy. You don’t have to wipe down the seat at the theater or on the train or in an Uber or taxicab—this virus isn’t butt-borne. And you don’t have to wear gloves so you don’t touch the gas pump, door handles or elevator buttons with your bare hands. You could carry along tissues and use those, but honestly, if you squirt some hand sanitizer afterward and try not to touch your face you should be OK.