As businesses and public venues open up, it’s more important than ever that you know how to protect yourself and your family from contracting or unknowingly spreading coronavirus.
“It’s important to remember that as society opens up, the COVID-19 virus is not going away,” says Ghazala Sharieff, MD, MBA, Scripps chief medical officer, clinical excellence and experience. “Practicing mitigation efforts, such as physical distancing, is crucial to keep the virus in check and you and your family safe. By doing your part, you can make a big difference for your health and the health of those around you.”
As you venture from home, take some simple precautions when you head out to your favorite restaurant, shop or the beach.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, grabbing your face mask when you leave home is now as much a part of our routines as checking that we have our cell phones.
However, not all masks are created equal, and certain types could actually be putting others at risk, according to health experts.
Masks with small plastic valves embedded in the front may stop particles from reaching the wearer, but they do little in the way of blocking what comes out of their noses and mouths. The effectiveness of neck gaiters — which are stretchy pieces of fabric that people can pull up to cover their nose and mouth — has also been questioned. Both are not allowed at Scripps facilities for use by patients, visitors and staff. People seen wearing them or not wearing a mask at all are being offered approved masks.
While an N95 respirator offers the highest level of protection against COVID-19 infection, followed by surgical grade masks, these respirators and masks should be reserved for health care workers as they are in limited supply.
Take these precautions with your face mask:
- A face covering should be made of cloth, fabric, or other soft or permeable material, but it should not have holes.
- Clean your mask after every wearing with hot, sudsy water.
- Before putting on a mask, clean your hands well with soap and water.
- Cover your mouth and nose with your mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
- Avoid touching the mask while using it and, if you do, wash your hands.
- To remove your mask, take it off using the elastic, without touching the front.
Stay aware of your environment and continue social distancing practices. Deliberately increasing the physical space between you and other people to at least six feet lessens your chances of catching COVID-19. Since COVID-19 can spread through coughing, sneezing and close contact, minimizing the amount of close contact we have with others reduces our chances of catching the virus and spreading it.
Continue to avoid larger crowds or crowded spaces:
- If possible, work from home instead of at the office.
- Switch to online classes and webinars.
- Visit loved ones by electronic devices instead of in person.
While it may be disappointing to hear that so many sporting events, cruises, festivals and other gatherings are cancelled, there is a public health reason for these measures. These cancellations help stop or slow down the spread of disease, allowing the health care system to more readily care for patients over time.
You may be seeing an increasing number of people wearing gloves in public since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Most believe they are being safe by wearing them and helping protect themselves from the virus that causes COVID-19. In fact, they may be further spreading germs in the community.
According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), vinyl, latex and nitryl gloves do protect the skin from bodily fluids and certain harmful chemicals, but the surface of these gloves can support germs just like skin.
APIC breaks it down:
- Gloves spread germs. Germs collect on the gloves when a person wearing them starts touching surfaces (elevator buttons, grocery carts, gas station pumps). Germs are spread when the person touches other objects.
- People may think they are protected by the gloves, but they are not because you can clean your bare hands with hand sanitizers or soap and water. This stops the spread of the germs.
- Gloves are not a complete barrier. Gloves may have very tiny (micro-sized) pin holes not visible to the naked eye that permit thousands of germs pass through these holes onto the skin in a short amount of time.
- Gloves can be damaged with holes made by fingernails, jewelry or wear and tear. Vinyl, latex and nitryl gloves also can be damaged by moisture, heat and chemicals.
Instead of wearing gloves while running essential errands, consider taking these precautions:
- When you do have to visit a store in person, go during hours when fewer people will be there (for example, early morning or late night).
- If you are at higher risk for severe illness, find out if the store has special hours for people at higher risk. If they do, try to shop during those hours. People at higher risk for severe illness include adults 65 or older and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.
- Disinfect the shopping cart, use disinfecting wipes if available.
- If possible, use touchless payment (pay without touching money, a card, or a keypad). If you must handle money, a card, or use a keypad, use hand sanitizer right after paying.
Don’t forget the tried-and-true remedies:
- Keep your hands away from your face.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use hand sanitizer when handwashing is not available.