Maximizing COVID-19 Mitigation Measures
Regardless of what you think about the current strategy, we are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic primarily through mitigating exposure. An important component of re-opening the economy will be to effectively continue the mitigation measures to prevent a subsequent resurgence and additional shutdowns.
To maximize the current effort and to make worthwhile the tremendous sacrifices being made, it is important that we all do our part to the best of our ability. It is frustrating to want to do the right thing, while being uncertain what that is. Here are some strategies to help you make the most of your mitigation efforts.
Know where exposure comes from
Unless you plan to practice mitigation everywhere all the time, it’s important to understand when it is needed and when you can relax. Mitigation is needed whenever or wherever you could be exposed to the COVID-19 virus, primarily:
- When you leave your home (and private yard).
- When someone or something comes into your home. This includes packages, groceries, and household members who leave and return.
How much day-to-day mitigation to do in your home depends primarily on two factors:
- How much risk your household can accept.
- How much exposure your household is experiencing.
For example, if someone in your household is at high risk, then your household can afford very little risk and therefore should do more mitigation at home. On the other hand, if everyone is young and healthy you may be able to accept more risk and need less mitigation at home.
At the same time, if a member of your household is an essential worker, and is frequently exposed, or if someone has or likely has COVID-19 infection, then your exposure is high and you likely require strict mitigation measures at home regardless of how much risk you can tolerate.
At the other extreme, if all members of your household are healthy and able to stay home, and the majority of items you receive are shipped, then your risk is low and minimal mitigation is likely all that is needed. It is important to find a balance that will provide sufficient protection for your household’s needs. It is also important to think about those you will come into contact with.
After washing your hands properly (scrub at least 20 seconds with soap) and rinsing well (with warm water), be sure you have something clean to dry them on! If your risk level at home is lower, then it should be sufficient to launder hand towels frequently.
Paper towels or cloth towels only used once before washing are best for public or high-risk situations. Consider giving children (who are less effective hand washers) their own towel and have them use a hand sanitizer after washing.
If you have a faucet that can be operated without using your fingers, like a lever style, then use your elbow or forearm to turn the water on and off instead of using your hands. This avoids leaving virus (or other germs) from your hands on the faucet, and then picking virus up again after you wash.
If your faucet style requires the use of your fingers, then use as few fingers as possible (thumb and forefinger, for example) to turn the water on and off. Or you could use a paper towel to shut the water on and off. Hand sanitizer near the sink can eliminate wayward germs you might pick up from the faucet.
Masks should be used as an additional safety measure, not a substitute for mitigation measures like social distancing, hand washing, and not touching your face. Proper mask use optimizes its effectiveness.
Before using a mask, pay attention to when you touch your face and address the causes when you use a mask. It’s important to use a mask that covers your mouth and nose and fits well (no big air gaps).
Use clean hands to put on a mask and avoid touching it or taking it off until you are finished wearing it. If you must take it off and put it back on again, then avoid touching the inside surface. This is especially important if you are using a make-shift mask like a scarf, because it’s easy to confuse the inside and outside. After using a mask, treat it as contaminated on both sides.
If you must leave your home, then touch as little as possible, wear a mask responsibly, and go alone if you can. Follow social distancing guidelines while out. After your first stop, behave as though your outside surfaces, your mask, keys, and phone are potentially contaminated. Plan your trip to minimize risk to you and to others.
For example, go to locations with the most vulnerable populations (like a pharmacy) first, before you potentially pick up virus from another place. Go to the riskiest place last (like a supermarket with more traffic), then go home and clean up right away. To avoid contaminating your house after being gone, touch as little as possible until you can wash up. Remember to wipe down surfaces you touched (like keys, phone, doorknobs, light switches), then wash your hands again.
If you have been gone for a long time, and been around many people (such as at work) or places, or if your household risk level is high, then a shower can rid your hair and face of any lingering virus before you can spread it in your home.
For a hand sanitizer to be effective it must have at least 60-percent alcohol. Hand sanitizer is not a substitute for washing your hands, but it is much better than nothing when washing properly isn’t an option.
When away from home, carry hand sanitizer and use it frequently; especially before re-entering your vehicle, which reduces the chances that you inadvertently touch your face with contaminated hands or that you contaminate your vehicle or mask.
Groceries and other deliveries
Whether you must go out or you are fortunate enough to be able to stay home and have what you need delivered, goods entering your home pose some risk for transmitting the virus. Mail and packages that have been in transit are lower risk than groceries just picked up at the store.
But because there is evidence the COVID-19 virus can survive on cardboard up to 24 hours and other materials like plastic and metal even longer,1 and because someone handled the package just before it was delivered, it is safest to assume that virus may be present on everything arriving at your home.
The fundamental principle to follow here is to keep “dirty” and “clean” items physically separated. One way to do this is to designate a “dirty” receiving area that is easy to clean afterward, and a “clean” area to place goods that have been wiped down.
It is important that your cleaning cloth remains saturated with cleaning solution (a dry rag spreads germs around) and that you keep track of what you touch as you clean so you don’t re-contaminate clean items. Don’t use toxic cleaners directly on food. And remember to sanitize your workspace after you are done. Here is a video demonstrating some of these principles2 and some additional information about food safety.3
If you have been away from home, then it is safest to assume your clothing is contaminated. Move around your home as little as possible and take off your outer layer of clothing as soon as possible. Don’t let your hands or the outside of your clothes touch your face.
Put your clothes directly into the wash or leave them in a designated area (like a hook in the garage) where they won’t contaminate other things. If you have to touch them again within a few days (without washing), remember that they’re potentially still contaminated.
Any disease mitigation effort is striving to accomplish two tasks:
- Keeping you from getting the disease.
- Keeping you from giving the disease to someone else.
Two characteristics of the COVID-19 virus that make mitigation more difficult are that it spreads easily between people and it can be spread while you have no symptoms of infection. You can use this information as guides whenever you are unsure how mitigation should look.
Now more than ever, doing what you can to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy is important. This will benefit you if you do become infected and will help you to cope with this crisis. Feeling like you have some control is anxiety-reducing. These suggestions can reduce the stress around keeping your household and your community safe during this difficult time.
An important note: No dietary supplement can diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, including COVID-19. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important to understand that no dietary supplement, no diet, and no lifestyle modifications – other than the recommended social distancing and hygiene practices – can prevent you from being infected with the COVID-19 virus. No current research supports the use of any dietary supplement to protect you from being infected with the COVID-19 virus.
1. van Doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris D, et al. Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Eng J Med 2020;0(0):null. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2004973
2. PSA Grocery Shopping Tips in COVID-19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjDuwc9KBps&feature=youtu.be [Accessed April 9, 2020]
3. Affairs (ASPA) AS for P. 4 Steps to food safety. FoodSafety.gov. https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/4-steps-to-food-safety [Accessed April 17, 2020]