The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak is incredibly scary, as it continues to spread across the globe at a rapid rate. While we are still in the process of understanding exactly how the virus that causes the highly infectious and deadly virus works, there are a handful of things we do know about it.
One of these is how it is spread—between people who are in close contact with one another and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes—and also via contact with infected surfaces or objects. Here are all the things you should be doing to virus-proof your life during the scary coronavirus outbreak.
It shouldn’t take a deadly virus to remind the world how important hand-washing is. However, if this isn’t a habitual practice of yours, learning the proper method of washing your hands is crucial during the current coronavirus crisis. And, chances are, you are doing it wrong. According to a study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture, hand washers are committing faux pas 97 percent of the time. The CDC stresses the importance of washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. And, don’t forget to dry your hands after washing, as germs transmit more easily via wet hands.
Because soap and water isn’t always available, you should start investing in hand sanitizer. The CDC recommends an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in order to kill the virus before further contamination. Apply to the palm of one hand—read the label to learn the correct amount—and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until they are dry.
While it is currently unclear just how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces, one study found that it can live for up to nine days. Stephen Morse, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, told NPR that while we don’t know exactly how this current strain reacts, based on previous coronaviruses it is likely that COVID-19 can be killed by most household cleaners, including bleach, alcohol, or even just old soap and water. Therefore, you should definitely wipe down everything in your home—counters, doorknobs, tables, faucets, light switches, cellphones included—in order to keep the members of your home safe. “Viruses can persist on surfaces, so anything you can do to keep them clean is a help, including the use of bleach solutions and disinfecting wipes,” Dr. Morse explained.
Viral infections are incredibly scary, as they are passed from person-to-person. Therefore, the closer you are to others, the more likely you are to be infected. The World Health Organization suggests maintaining at least a three foot distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing, as they are spraying small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. “If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease,” they warn. You may even want to consider working remotely if that is an option. The less interactions with others, the more likely you are to stay healthy.
One of the top ways you can avoid getting a scary virus is by keeping your hands away from your facial area. The WHO points out that because hands touch many surfaces, they can easily pick up viruses. Once contaminated, they can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth, where it can enter your body and can make you sick. “Many respiratory viruses are transmitted from contaminated surfaces by our own hands to our eyes and nose,” explains Richard Martinello, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist. “Keeping your hands and fingers away from your face may be one of the most effective ways to keep from getting sick.” If you must touch your eyes or nose, make sure to first wash your hands carefully with soap and water. Or, use an alcohol based hand rub to destroy germs.
In addition to hand-washing hygiene, the WHO stresses the importance of making sure you and those around you practice respiratory hygiene. “This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately,” they explain. This is due to the fact that droplets spread viruses. “By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.”
Now more than ever it is important to be hyper aware of any and all symptoms, and to act promptly. “Stay home if you feel unwell,” urges WHO. If you have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately, and if you think it could be coronavirus, you should call ahead so your health care provider can direct you to the right health facility to be tested. “This will also protect you and help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections,” they explain.
Since we are still learning about COVID-19—including its symptoms, exactly how it spreads, and prevention methods—it is crucial to continue educating yourself on all the up to date information surrounding it. “Follow advice given by your healthcare provider, your national and local public health authority or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19,” suggests the WHO.
While it is likely that we won’t have a vaccine for the novel coronavirus available for some time, Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FIDSA, FACP, FACEP, Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, points out that one of the best ways to virus-proof your home is making sure everyone is up to date on their vaccines.
Don’t forget to educate your children on virus prevention methods, urges Mary Mason, MD, Internist, and founder of Little Medical School. “The top things to address with kids as you talk about the virus is prevention and how to stay healthy,” she says. For example, teach them how to properly wash their hands and stress the importance of keeping their hands away from their faces and outside of their mouths.
For the time being, the CDC isn’t too concerned about the coronavirus being spread on airplanes. “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes,” they explain. However, while the risk of infection on an airplane is low, travelers should still maintain all the other virus-proofing strategies in the air—including washing hands often and using hand sanitizer and avoiding passengers that appear sick. However, if you do have a trip planned to a region of the world experiencing a serious outbreak—such as China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea—you should seriously consider postponing it.
It’s important to realize that the CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from any respiratory diseases—including COVID-19. The only people who should be wearing them are those who show symptoms of COVID-19, as they are effective in helping prevent the spread of the disease to others. In fact, Surgeon General Jerome Adams took to Twitter last week in order to beg people to stop buying them. “Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS!” he tweeted. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” Use one only if you feel it helps you not touch your face.
Because it isn’t entirely clear how the disease is spread, the WHO suggests maintaining a variety of food safety practices. These include using different cutting surfaces and knives for raw and cooked food, washing your hands between handling raw and cooked food, not eating any animals who have been sick or died of disease, and thoroughly cooking and properly handling meat.
While we still don’t know whether the current outbreak will graduate to pandemic status, it doesn’t hurt to prepare for the worst. If the disease becomes more widespread, you might want to consider staying home to protect yourself. The American Red Cross always suggests keeping a survival kit handy in case of emergencies—which includes everything from a seven-day supply of your medications to a two-week supply of non-perishable food and water.
A strong immune system is one of the best defenses against any illness. In addition to keeping your body healthy, some of the easiest ways to boost immunity include eating healthy, getting an ample amount of sleep, proper hydration, and avoiding stress as much as possible.
And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick.