Sure, the country is slowly beginning to reopen, but you can’t let your guard down when it comes to COVID-19. The virus is still alive and well, and infecting people everywhere from the grocery store to parks and beaches. However, this doesn’t mean you have to spend the summer indoors. It simply requires a little diligence, patience, and understanding about how the disease is spread. There are certain mistakes that many people are making when they leave the house putting them at risk of infection. To stay safe, here are 14 easily avoidable mistakes, according to experts.
“If you are going into an area of congestion, I would definitely wear a mask,” says Heidi J. Zapata, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease expert. However, wearing a facemask isn’t enough. It has to be worn correctly to be effective. “I know they are hard to wear, and difficult to wear with glasses (lens fog up). However, if you are going into an area of congestion, and you wear the mask just over your mouth, then you can still be infected by inhaling through your nose,” she points out. “You can also sneeze and possibly infect those around you.”
The Rx: Therefore, she suggests wearing your mask over your nose and mouth to avoid error. Don’t make any of these Mistakes You’re Making with Face Masks.
If you have left the house recently, you have probably noticed that everyone seems to have a different idea what six feet looks like. “Not everyone is doing this correctly,” Dr. Zapata maintains. For example, if you decide to take a walk with your friend in the park, it is admittedly hard to walk and talk with someone side by side and still stay six feet apart in a narrow path or sidewalk. “I am seeing many people take a walk and are only one or two feet apart,” she says.
The Rx: She suggests taking out a tape measure if you aren’t clear on what the social distancing recommendation looks like. “One thing to consider would be to sit down on the grass, and measure the 6 feet and have a conversation at a distance.” Also, remember six feet is about two arms lengths apart, or the length of a twin-size bed.
The Rx: “When you reach home, leave shoes outside and wash all clothing including homemade masks,” she suggests.
When you go to a public place like a supermarket, be conscious of what you touch, urges Dr. Zapata. “For example you go to the supermarket, and are wearing a mask, and then touch a door knob/handle, and then grab the handle for the food cart. You then decide to grab some milk. Keep track of what you are touching, and try to clean your hands with hand sanitizer often,” she suggests. Otherwise, if you rub your eyes or touch your face after having touched one of many objects, it would be an easy way of getting infected.
The Rx: “We often do not keep track of touching our faces,” she continues. “Remember these objects are touched by hundreds if not thousands of people every day.” Other examples of items to be conscious of include elevator buttons, railings on stairs, and credit card machines.
Everyone wants to get some fresh air and exercise, but trails can be dangerous if you don’t follow the rules.
The Rx: “If you are on the same path for example in a park and are going for a jog, go around the person that is in front of you (give it a six feet radius), and keep jogging or walking,” Dr. Zapata urges. “No one wants someone to breathe heavily on them during this time.”
Remember back in preschool when you learned the importance of taking turns? Well, this is a good time to utilize that skill. “For example, if someone is at an aisle at a supermarket and is picking a food item, wait until they are done to go near that aisle (can wait patiently six feet apart),” Dr. Zapata suggests. “Of course this requires consideration on both ends.”
The Rx: Many markets and doctors’ offices are placing stickers on the ground that note where to stand; follow them. This goes for elevators also. Some buildings will only allow two people into one car per time; this is for your own safety.
While the water inside of a drinking fountain or communal water dispenser is safe to drink, experts point out that given the fact that a number of mouths and noses come into close contact with the tap, you should probably avoid them. Also, to get water out of a fountain or dispenser you usually have to come into contact with a button or lever—which means other people have likely touched it too.
The Rx: To be safe, you might want to bring a bottle of water with you instead.
In a blog post that has since gone viral, Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth reveals some of the riskiest situations for COVID-19 infection. Due to the fact that bathrooms are generally some of the germiest spots, they made the list. “Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors. So fomite transfer risk in this environment can be high,” he explains.
The Rx: While it is still unclear whether infectious material can be released in feces, “we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets,” he points out. “Treat public bathrooms with extra caution (surface and air), until we know more about the risk.”
One of the most important messages of Dr. Bromage’s blog post has to do with airflow. He points to research finding that an overwhelming majority of the cases examined via contact tracing around the world, only a single outbreak was reported from an outdoor event—and this has to do with airflow. “Indoor spaces, with limited air exchange or recycled air and lots of people, are concerning from a transmission standpoint,” he explains.
The Rx: While social distancing suggestions—standing 6 feet apart—are effective in preventing transmission in open air spaces, all bets are off when you are indoors. “If I am outside, and I walk past someone, remember it is ‘dose and time’ needed for infection,” he points out. “You would have to be in their airstream for 5+ minutes for a chance of infection.” However, if you are in a poorly ventilated space with recycled air, infection will occur much more quickly.
When you are at the grocery store or any other common indoor space, avoid taking your time. Dr. Bromage points out that there are various factors you need to take into consideration when assessing the risk of infection (via respiration). These include the volume of the air space, the number of people in the space, and how long people are spending in the space.
The Rx: Basically, the longer you spend in a crowded store, the more likely your chances of infection are.
Dr. Bromage explains that due to airflow in most restaurants, respiratory droplets can travel more than six feet through the air. And, the longer you spend dining, the chances of becoming infected increase. In an example he provides, one infected person had dinner with nine friends. “During this meal, the asymptomatic carrier released low-levels of virus into the air from their breathing,” he explains, with airflow from right to left. Nearly half of the people at his table became sick within the week, 75 percent of people sitting at the adjacent downwind table became infected, and 2 of the 7 people on the upwind table. However, people sitting at tables out of the main airflow were infected.
The Rx: After months of eating at home, the idea of dining out at a restaurant is very enticing. However, it’s important to keep in mind that COVID-19 can be easily spread in eating establishments—and not just via touching.
I get it—you’ve been stuck inside, and now can’t wait to eat and drink yourself silly at bars and restaurants. But chances are you haven’t been eating that great while “stuck indoors.” A healthy and balanced diet keeps your immune system strong, and keeping your immune system strong should be a priority during this pandemic.
The Rx: If you’ve gained weight during self-isolation, eat right by boning up on these 8 Best Weight Loss Tips—From a Nutritionist Who Lost 100 Pounds.
Many people consider gloves a foolproof way to protect themselves from coming into contact with the virus. However, if you aren’t following proper glove-wearing procedure—including taking them off correctly and washing or sanitizing your hands immediately after removing them—using them might do more harm than good.
The Rx: “Gloves are not helpful unless you are changing or washing them frequently as they also get contaminated,” explains Dr. Parikh. “It is probably best to keep washing your hands.”
While it may be tempting to attend a group gathering—especially when it involves family, celebration, or mourning—in his blog Dr. Bromage points out that these accounted for 10 percent of “early spreader events.” He shares a true story of an individual who was infected with the virus but hadn’t yet experienced symptoms. The man shared a takeout meal with family members, serving it out of a common dish. The next day he went to a funeral where he hugged a few people. He also attended a birthday party, hugging many of the people there. By the time he started showing symptoms, was put on a ventilator, and later passed away, he had infected both the people he shared the meal with, and several people from the funeral and birthday party. And they in turn, infected others.
The Rx: In total, one man was directly responsible for infecting 16 people between the ages of 5 and 86 and three deaths. Remember that before you congregate, even if your city allows group gatherings.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.