We are more than a year into this COVID-19 epidemic, and although I think we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, we must still be careful, even as new vaccines become available (see separate blog piece on COVID-19 Vaccination https://takechargehealth.com/2021/04/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccines-get-vaccinated-as-soon-as-you-can/). Here are my thoughts on how to now cope with the current epidemic. With so many people having been infected and many dying world-wide, including in every state and virtually every community in the United States, people may be tempted to feel helpless and believe that there is nothing they can do to help protect themselves and their family members. Perhaps worse, some may feel that with the new vaccines, this horror is over and we can immediately return to normal lives. Not so fast! Here are some simple things you can do which can help even if you have been vaccinated or are waiting to be vaccinated (which by the way help with preventing the spread of other viral diseases such as the flu and the common cold):
- Wash your hands regularly. Each Coranovirus particle is held intact by an oily layer which can easily be destroyed by simple handwashing with soap (for at least 20 seconds or as some have noted, the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to you” twice). If you want to see a visual demonstration of this, check out: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/coronavirus/how-soap-kills-the-coronavirus/vi-BB11mLOe?ocid=spartanntp . You can also use rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizers which contain at least 70% alcohol, since this also destroys the virus’s oily protective layer. Since we touch so many things with our hands (including doorknobs, tables, kitchen and bathroom surfaces and other things), our unwashed hands are unfortunately a major way the virus spreads.
- Don’t touch your nose, eyes and mouth with your hands, and if you do, wash your hands again. Coronaviruses may be on your hands, but they generally cannot penetrate the skin of your hands or outer body which has a protective layer of many dead cells which prevent the virus from getting into the blood stream. However bodily mucous (wet) membranes such as inside the mouth, inside the nose, under the eyelids, lack this thick protective layer and are more susceptible to becoming infected with later spread to other body parts (e.g. from the nose and mouth into your lungs as you breathe, and where the virus can cause a serious, life threatening pneumonia). The virus is also secreted through the same mucous membranes. An infected person can therefore easily spread this virus by coughing into their hands or rubbing their noses, and then either shaking hands with someone else, or putting their hands on surfaces which others may touch (for example door knobs or kitchen and bathroom surfaces). For this reason:
- Don’t shake hands during this epidemic. This is one of the most common ways of spreading the virus. Say “Hello” from a 6 foot distance or bump elbows instead! Also:
- Disinfect commonly used surfaces (door knobs, table and bathroom surfaces) with Clorox bleach or disinfecting wipes. Unfortunately, studies have shown that virus placed on most surfaces can remain for hours and can presumuably still infect others who touch the same uncleaned surfaces. If you touch such surfaces, it’s best to wash your hands as mentioned above.
- Keep a safe distance of at least 6 feet from others, even if they don’t seem sick (social distancing). Unfortunately, a person may be infected and not know it. It may take days for them to become symptomatic (for example: fever, cough, runny nose, even diarrhea). Thus, treat even normal appearing folks the same way (you can still say hello and have a conversation, just with some distance between you and the other person). This is called “social distancing.” Also take advantage of modern internet technology such as phone calls and video conferences to keep in touch with relatives and friends.
- Wear a face mask anytime you venture outside or mingle with others., and particularly if you are sneezing our coughing. If you can, it’s still best to stay home and avoid person-to-person contact with others as much as possible. You should also wear a face mask any time you are around vulnerable people (e.g. elderly individuals, people with lung problems, heart problems, asthma). Probably the main way this virus spreads is on tiny invisible droplets of fluid you produce and spew out each time you cough or sneeze. If you are at least 6 feet from others, or they (or you) are wearing a mask, then these droplets are not likely to travel from one person to another. Also, if you are meeting people outdoors in well ventilated areas, you are less likely to get these infected droplets deposited on you. This is also the reason for not holding meetings with more than 10 people in a room. Better to talk with folks over the phone or have conference calls from your home. Don’t forget to disinfect the phone after usage! Finally face masks have the extra benefit of preventing your possibly infected hands from touching your mouth and nose.
- If you are healthy under 40 years of age, don’t think you are immune to the serious effects of Coronavirus infection. Although it is true that most hospitalizations and deaths have so far occurred among individuals who are older, or have significant medical conditions, several young and otherwise healthy folks have already become seriously ill and died from this disease. Additionally, even if you don’t get sick (and remember for days after infection you may not even know that you are infected), you may pass this disease on to older and/or debilitated family members and friends. Nobody wants the guilt of having given a fatal disease to a loved one or friend.
- Finally, if you don’t have to go out into your community, stay home. Many communities are still struggling with public health policies such as mandatory face mask wearing, curfews, limiting social gatherings. We seem to have had many spikes in new infections, when we relax our guard prematurely or continue with vacation events (e.g. Spring Break and the Christmas/New Year’s holidays with much travel). Many things if you think about it can wait (for example, getting your hair done or going to a crowded beach). Minimize the number of times you go out to get food and consider either takeout or home delivery instead of going to a restaurant.
We certainly hope that this epidemic (like nearly all viral epidemics) will eventually run its course allowing us to return to normal daily activities. However, each virus is different, and we don’t know how long this one will last. There is as yet no proven drug which can prevent or cure this viral disease and the majority of our country’s population has yet to be vaccinated (need approximately 70-80% vaccination rate to reach so called herd immunity). In the meantime, what we desperately need to avoid is for tons of people to get sick all at the same time and need hospitalization. If we overwhelm our hospitals (as has unfortunately happened several times), many will die because they cannot get the care they need. Your public health officials will notify you further on what you should and should not do. In the meantime, be safe, clean and physically isolated (but still communicating with others and having fun ?).
For more information on Coronavirus, check out the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention website here.
Keywords: Coronavirus, epidemic, COVID-19, handwashing, soap, alcohol, hand sanitizer, face mask, social distancing