With the coronavirus outbreak rapidly growing worldwide, one thing doctors like me know for sure is that COVID-19 is very good at infecting people. We already know that some people are much more susceptible to infection and it can put healthy individuals in critical condition, when others don’t experience any symptoms at all but they are still able to infect a great number of people.
Asymptomatic individuals—meaning, those who are infected but do not show symptoms—contribute most to the virus spread and they are the source of further infections due to there being more of them and the higher likelihood that they were out and about. Therefore, the only safe place for you is your home. As soon as you leave it you are exposed to infection. Also, if you let anyone in you put yourself at risk. Here are 10 ways you are catching the virus without realizing it.
COVID-19 spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes small droplets with the virus into the air. If you breathe them in or you touch the surface they have landed on, you may develop infection. That is why social distancing is very important and many shops are enforcing it. Please do everything you can to have your food delivered—and if you do go shopping, keep at least six feet from others, including when waiting in line, and follow my advice in the next slide.
Supermarkets and gas stations provide an ideal setting for virus spread as many people touch and replace items, swipe credit cards, press parking lot ticket machine buttons, ATM machines and paper receipts. Despite recent headlines saying the CDC changed its stance about the transmission of viruses on surfaces, they later clarified: “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented,” but “current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.”
Fresh groceries could have been handled by anyone so it is important for unwrapped fresh food to be washed thoroughly under running water (without soap!) and left to dry.
Home deliveries are less risky than a supermarket shopping however there is still a risk of possible contamination of the surface of any food or package or from the delivery driver. The best practice is to wipe over surfaces with simple diluted bleach which will inactivate the virus within seconds.
Many good restaurants are offering take out food now and they have implemented the best hygienic food preparation practice to minimize risk. In the current circumstances, it is better to order hot, freshly cooked meals rather than cold or raw food. The biggest risk comes from packaging. It can be minimized by removing food from the container into a refuse bag and washing your hands before you eat. You can also microwave your food for a few minutes.
Using public transport provides one of the biggest risks of getting COVID-19. Apart from the possibility of breathing in the droplets of the virus from the air, there is a risk of getting infected by touching surfaces. COVID-19 can survive on the surfaces for up to 5 days. Handles, seats, ticket machines are touched by thousands of people every day and they can contribute to massive virus spread.
There are still some sites open where people can trade used, new or unwanted items. The buyer or seller can be infected and spread this infection during item collection or drop off. The virus can stay on the surface of the item and when you touch it you can get infected.
If you can not work from home or you are an “essential” worker using a shared computer or equipment, make sure you wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe before using it. Wipe it down before and after use to prepare it for the next person.
Even if you wear gloves while shopping or in public transport or at work, when you touch your phone you can transfer viruses from gloves to the surface of your phone. It is a good practice to not use your phone as much—but if you need to, make sure you wipe it with a disinfectant wipe as often as possible. The virus can stay on your phone and then it can be transferred to your hands. You can catch infection without realizing it as soon as you touch your face or mouth with infected hands.
The CDC recommends wearing face masks not just to protect you from getting infected by droplets, but to stop you from spreading droplets. Here’s how they say you should wear one:
- “Wash your hands before putting on your face covering
- Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
- Try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face
- Make sure you can breathe easily
- Don’t put the covering around your neck or up on your forehead
- Don’t touch the face covering, and, if you do, wash your hands”
Remember the close talker episode of Seinfeld? Make sure you’re not one. To prevent spread of the virus, stand a true six feet away from someone when talking to them, or when packed into a grocery store. Think of the length of a twin size bed, if that helps.
Now that cities are opening up, you may be going back to work, or into a mall, or to the movies. In order to reduce a spike of new cases, you must be hyper-vigilant about your hygiene (wash your hands for 20 seconds, wear a mask, etc), and one infectious disease doctor from Yale adds one other important element to consider: Ask yourself if your errand is essential. If it isn’t, skip it.
Magazines at the doctor’s office. The bottom of your handbag. The A/C buttons in your car. Our editors have made a list of the 40 Things You Should Never Touch Due to Coronavirus—and it’s worth clicking to read it, given the risks.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.