For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.
The global pandemic of novel coronavirus and its resulting disease, COVID-19, have countries on lockdown, schools and businesses shuttered across the globe, and wide swaths of the population mandated to work from home. Your job: to stay as healthy as possible while minimizing your risk of exposure to yourself and others.
While social distancing and thoroughly wash your hands are the best policies, healthy people still can still shop for supplies and support local businesses like coffee shops — even if they don’t have N95 face masks.
The need to stay vigilant with germs is serious but also manageable. Grocery stores and local shops and services are largely open in many places. While the coronavirus known officially as SARS-CoV-2 is easily spread, there are plenty of common-sense techniques you can apply to stay part of the world. Carefully.
Enough with the fingertips: Use your knees, feet, elbows and knuckles instead
If you’re still pressing elevator buttons with your fingertips, stop. Any time you have to open a door, push a button, pull a lever or digitally sign for something, use a different body part instead. You have plenty.
For example, I’ll often tap out a pin code with my knuckle instead of the pad of my finger, or push open a door with my shoulder, hip or foot instead of my hands.
You can usually flip on a light switch or sink faucet with your elbow or wrist, and you can wrap the sleeve of your sweater or jacket around the handle of doors you have to physically pull open. It’s easy enough to toss your clothing into the wash later rather than expose your skin now, especially if the chances you’ll use your hands to touch food items is high (e.g. you’re opening the door to a coffee shop).
Look for the automatic option
Most modern buildings have accessibility buttons to open doors for people with mobility concerns. You can easily touch this with your forearm, hip or foot (some are pretty low down) and wait the few seconds for the doors to open.
Consider buying an automatic soap dispenser for home so you don’t have to worry about transferring germs to the pump.
Pay attention to where you put your phone down
While we’ve gotten the go ahead to use disinfecting wipes on phones, another smart idea is to avoid placing your device on iffy surfaces to begin with. Do you really need to take your phone into the bathroom stall with you, or can you just leave it in a coat pocket or purse? The less you can expose your phone to shared surfaces, the less you need to worry about it in the first place.
When you’re at a restaurant or anywhere with a shared surface, lay down a napkin and set your phone on that. It’ll save you having to disinfect your phone quite so often. (You can also use napkins to pick up shared condiment bottles if you feel comfortable with that.)
Bring your own shopping bags
If you haven’t started bringing your own shopping bags to the grocery store, now’s a good time. Doing so puts you more in control over who touches your groceries. Using your own tote bag means you’re not pushing a cart or carrying a basket used by dozens of others — not every store provides sanitary wipes at the door. And packing a tote full of smaller produce bags means you won’t give a second thought to the prudence of grabbing bags from individual produce bag dispensers along with everyone else.
By all means, if you don’t have any small bags at home, use the store-supplied variety, but consider returning with them next time — so long as you’re well. For other peoples’ comfort, keep your own bag in the tote or basket and put the produce directly into it. The point is to reduce any potential cross-contamination.
When sorting through food, I’ve been sticking my hand inside a fresh bag and using the outside like a glove to pick up and inspect the garlic and oranges I want, so as not to touch every item with my bare hands. One woman gave me a look. I couldn’t tell if she thought I was insane or brilliant, but let’s go with the latter.
You can toss larger cloth bags into the wash to sanitize them after a shop, and keep smaller plastic or biodegradable bags for future trips, even rinsing them under hot water for good measure. Just completely dry them first. Mesh produce bags are available from sellers like Amazon, Target and Walmart that are also washing machine-safe. As always, thoroughly wash your hands when you get home, as well as any produce you use.
Greet people like this, not that
By now you’ve probably heard the cautionary tale about the Washington, DC priest who tested positive for coronavirus reportedly shook hands with over 500 people during church communion. And you’re well aware of how easy it is to transmit the virus, which can linger on surfaces for up to 9 days.
So resist the urge to hug a friend when you meet for commiseration coffee, lean in for a peck on the cheek, pat a colleague on the back if you’re working from the office or shake hands to meet somebody new. Even elbow bumps and toe-taps should be ruled out. Try one of these 13 clever and satisfying ways to safely greet someone instead.
Remember, even if you feel fine personally, social distancing is a compassionate way to protect people in vulnerable demographics, like your elderly relatives and those with health complications. It isn’t always apparent when someone has a compromised immune system or other invisible underlying health concern.
Wash your hands every time you get ‘home’
As a contacts-wearer, I touch my eyes often. Making a beeline for the bathroom is now the first thing I do whenever I get back home or wherever it is I’m going to be for awhile (that’s really home these days, but had been the office and hotel rooms earlier this month). That’s after being out, after going to the gym, even before using the restroom. I might wash the soap dispenser pump and faucet handles, too.
That helps me feel safe enough to adjust my contacts, blow my nose and pick that nagging something or other out of my teeth in the comfort of my own space.
Carry extra napkins, wet wipes and facial tissue
Packing extra tissues, wet wipes and other paper products in my purse is already part of my habit, but now I pay extra attention to how much paper I have on hand.
Normally, I might use a spare napkin to wipe my hands after an impromptu snack (also in my bag). Today, these products could come in handy to clear away germs, or act as a barrier between you (or your phone) and a surface. For example, opening a door handle if you just saw someone cough into their hands before turning a knob.
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Try not to handle cash money
Cash is already considered dirty — you never know what kind of germs linger on its surface. If you can pay with a debit or credit card instead of handling bills and coins, you could reduce that icky feeling that you don’t know where your money’s been.
A large number of payment terminals accept Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and credit cards with the contactless logo on them. And remember, if a digital signature is required, you can use your knuckle instead of your index finger. For a physical signature, start packing your own pen.
Banish questionable items to a 9-day time out
The novel coronavirus can cling to surfaces, such as your jacket or a tabletop, for up to nine days at room temperature, studies have found. After that, it’s thought to die and no longer be able to infect you.
We know that a thorough cleaning with good ol’ soap and water will kill the virus’ structure, but if you’re not sure how to disinfect an item, like a dry-clean-only jacket or pair of boots, setting it aside for 9 days is another option.
Since COVID-19 incubates in the body from one to 14 days, you can extend the time out to two weeks if you’re extra concerned.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.