• Sarah Schafer, MD

Protecting yourself during the pandemic

Updated: May 13, 2020

I have made many changes over the past month to avoid infection during the Corona Virus pandemic. I thought I had a good system. Then I read Bexi’s blog post. I realized how much I was missing. Her article summarizes the excellent, science-based recommendations about how to protect yourself.

Bexi (aka Rebecca Lobo) is a PhD scientist with extensive experience using sterile technique in the laboratory. She is particularly qualified to share the “best of” recommendations for protection. As a Sjogren’s patient, she is highly motivated to avoid infection. I encourage everyone to read her blog post and then use it as a reference for review.

Why take such extreme measures?

Respiratory droplets, large and small, carry the virus. The best protection is physical distancing (aka social distancing.) Many infections are now understood to be transmitted by people who carry the virus but do not have symptoms.

Assume everyone around you is infected. This is harsh: it means avoiding anyone who does not live with you (extended family and close friends included), not just sick people. You can get infected simply by being near someone or even in the same room as someone who has the virus. You don’t need to be coughing, sneezing or sick with a fever to spread the infection.

It is hard to change behavior so drastically. Take the extra time to implement these measures spelled out by Bexi, and focus on the most important things first.

Here are what I see as the top three priorities:

Clothing, kitchen, bathrooms, and linens:

  • Keep a pile of clean hand towels or rags on a clean surface of your kitchen counter and bathroom counter. Use them once and discard them into a special basket. Handle the towels and the basket as you would contaminated clothing. Paper towels are a good backup if you don’t have easy access to a washer and dryer.

  • Microwave kitchen sponges for 1- 2 minutes daily.

  • The need for clothes decontamination depends on exposure. Going on a neighborhood walk is probably not a problem. However, it is a good idea to strip down and throw clothing in the washer or laundry room sink after coming home from the grocery store or a health care facility. Then thoroughly wash your hands and any other exposed parts of yourself. I did a full shower and hair wash after returning from a recent medical visit.

  • If you use a communal laundry facility, treat your hamper (and the surfaces of the washer/dryer) as contaminated. Use gloves to transfer dirty laundry into the washing machine.

  • If your articles of clothing are not easy to wash, place them in direct sun for several hours or in the dryer on high heat.

  • Remember to wash your hands carefully after touching any potentially contaminated items.

If you think you don’t have a problem where you live, you do or you will. This is going to get much worse in the upcoming weeks. Without widespread testing, we cannot know the extent of the spread. The 1918 flu pandemic started in the big coastal cities and then infected every region of the country. This will happen quickly. People who are currently in the hospital for severe infection got the virus several weeks ago when things seemed quiet. Protect yourself. You will feel more confident with a plan!

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