Infection Prevention for COVID-19: An Illustrated Summary
There’s lots of information out thereabout how we should beprotecting ourselvesand others from COVID-19. Definitely the bestpractices for preventionagainst COVID-19 are these measures,social distancing, stayinghome, especially when ill,not touching your face,and washing your hands. As researchers learn moreabout COVID-19 every day,guidelines may expand toadapt to the new information. So we should also beadaptable as we stay informed. One of these measures isa new CDC recommendationof wearing face coverings in public. Coronavirus travels in dropletscalled respiratory dropletsthat are propelled from thespray of a cough or a sneeze. But research now suggests that dropletsmay even be emitted fromjust speaking or breathingand can potentially lastin the air for three hoursbefore falling to the ground. So how do face masks help us?There are different types,but the most common onesyou’re probably hearing aboutare N95 respirators, surgicalmasks, and cloth masks. Medical grade N95respirators have a tight sealagainst the face and aredesigned to filter out95% of particles, even theones that are really small,up to 0. 3 microns. Coronavirus, which is even smaller,only 50 to 200 nanometers,can travel in respiratorydroplets of various sizes. So we rely on N95respirators to filter outpretty much all largedroplets and most small onesthat may contain the virus. Having these respirators availablefor health care providersis critical to ensure theycan treat their patientswithout sacrificing theirown health and safety. And so they must be reservedfor health care workers. Surgical masks are loose-fitting,so are mostly intendedas a physical barrier,not a filtration device. They protect the wearer againstlarge respiratory droplets,but not smaller particles,so are not considered reliablerespiratory protectionby the CDC. But they do protect othersfrom the mask wearer’sown respiratory droplets,at least from coughing,sneezing, and exhaling. Surgical masks should also be reservedfor health care workers. The CDC now recommendscloth face coveringsfor the general public,masks made from a simplet-shirt, for example,for when you do need togo outside for essentials,like to the grocery store or the pharmacy. Some states in the US have already startedmandating this as well. Even so, the best practice isto practice social distancingand stay at home. But for essential outings,you should cover your mouthand nose with a cloth barrier. Cloth masks can act as a physical barrierand protect others fromthe respiratory dropletsthat you emit. You may not feel like othersneed protection from you,especially if you’re not feeling sick. But the CDC estimates that25% of people infectedwith the novel coronavirusdon’t show symptomsand feel fine. But they can still transmit the virusto other people around them. So it’s a better safe than sorry practice. The only risk, you may startto believe it’s protecting youmore than it actually isand be fooled into afalse sense of security. You may feel safer wearing a mask,but remember, it’s meant toprotect others around you,not yourself. The best way to keep yourself safeis with social distancingand washing your hands often and well. And once you get home, besure to remove your maskwithout touching the outsidecontaminated part of the maskand wash it before your next use. The novel coronaviruscan survive on objectsfrom hours to days,depending on the material. Research so far estimates it can surviveon copper for four hours,on cardboard for 24 hours,and on plastic and stainlesssteel for around 72 hours. This is still early research,so it could potentiallysurvive even longer. This means that in additionto washing your hands oftenand for 20 seconds each time,you should disinfect frequentlytouched surfaces regularly,like your countertops, phone, doorknobs,light switches, and faucets. A good disinfectant issomething with 70% alcohol,like rubbing alcohol. You can also use a bleach solution. These work best whenyou let the solution siton the surface for 30 seconds to a minutebefore wiping it down. You can make your own bleach solutionby mixing five tablespoons ofbleach per gallon of water. 3% hydrogen peroxide also worksif you wait one minutebefore wiping it down. Commercial wipes contain an ingredientcalled quaternary ammonium,which is also efficient in disinfectingwhen you follow thedirections on the label. Be sure to never mix cleaning products,because they can create dangerous,toxic chemical reactions. So what can you do whenyou have to leave your homefor, say, groceries?A good exercise whenyou’re out is to assumeeveryone around you is infected,and you, yourself are aswell, and act accordingly. This will keep you aware of what you touchand your distance from others. Be extra careful not to touch your faceand minimize touchingyour personal belongings. When you get home, washyour hands immediatelyand disinfect any items youmay have touched while out,like car keys and your phone. Your concern should be moreabout the people around youthan the groceries you’re bringing home. Your risk of being infected by a virusliving on your groceries is very low. So there’s no need to disinfect every itemas long as you do these things. Wash your hands after unpacking groceries. Disinfect countertopsafter unpacking them. And wash your hands beforecooking and before eating,which you should be doingall the time anyways.